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

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Your right to feel safe in your relationship

You have every right to feel safe in your relationship. In any relationship. Especially in marriage. 
But it’s often a journey to get there — to arrive in this place with much surety. And this is not excusing abuse, for which there is no excuse! But it is the necessary concession we need to make if ongoing repentance and continued growth is evident. None of us wants to give up on a relationship with potential where we believe the other person is trying from their heart. No; we want and need to believe in their capacity to grow. Until they refuse to grow, refusing to be challenged. And we need to believe fervently that we’re committed to ensuring they feel safe around us and act accordingly.
We still have every right to feel safe, to be free of anxiety pertaining to a person’s presence. We still have every right to feel safe regarding what we do, what we don’t do, what we say, and what we think. To have our living and our being rest acceptably within sanctuary.
More is the pity that we don’t always feel safe. And it is tragic when we cannot say it. It’s the saving grace of a relationship that where we don’t feel safe our partner can simply hear us out and not judge us or feel accused or unworthy.
A right relationship is about feeling
right about the relationship.
And marriage is ostensibly about right relationship. Where both feel they can communicate and exist in the presence of safety. For both it will take maturity, the ability to be and remain in the adult space. For both, security, a definitive sense-of-self that acknowledges and accepts personal flaws. For both, faith, which is trust in one another and God.
Where there is no such assurance for safety, doubts for the rightness of the relationship are exposed.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

T.E.S.T. – Try Every Single Time

Photo by Kristopher Roller on Unsplash

The moment we see that an overwhelming situation is a test is the moment we’re empowered to overcome. Not by overcoming the moment itself as if we could do that. But by our reframing the moment. Not that the moment is simply more tolerable, but we can see the moment as a test and worth every bit just to:

This didn’t make sense to me when God first spoke it. But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. This is not about mastering our spirituality in our own strength, for that is folly. This is about resolving to please God because we can.
This is about seeing everything in life as a test, particularly the extenuating circumstances, and as a test, the extenuating circumstance, one at a time, as they only come one at a time, is passable.
Let’s look at some facts of what tests do to us:
1.      We fail at the level of our will. Sometimes when we stop, we stop because we stop trying.
2.      Having failed, we lose heart. The test overwhelms us. We stop trying. We choose to give up.
3.      Believing we can do a thing is simply about the hope we have in us to have a go. We do this by trying. Even in the mode of despair there’s power in reframing our thinking.
4.      We overcome by not giving up. By continuing in our trying. If we keep trying we don’t give up.
5.      Every test is a matter of awareness — that we’re aware we’re being tested. Then, in knowing life tests us, it’s simply the decision of trying, of reframing, of choosing a hopeful joy as we do the difficult thing, even as we don’t enjoy doing the thing we have to do.
6.      Every test is passable. We pass the test by trying. And even if we fail, we have tried. To try is to please God.
7.      Having seen how trying works we learn the benefit of trying when we could give up. No matter how bad things get we see the impact of trying.
God first spoke to me about how life tests us amid a season of testing nearly 15 years ago. It has been a powerful lesson that remains true today.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

What we’ll discuss at your first marriage counselling session

Photo by Kari Shea on Unsplash

The very first marriage counselling session is vital for setting the stage for the journey that ought to be the marriage repair that the couple require. Some are tune-ups, and some are overhauls, and some, I’m afraid to say, are salvage for the scrapyard. But there ought always to be hope for some form of reconciliation for peace, whatever the state of any relationship, together or separated.
Naturally, the couple will be keen to dive right into the present issues, particularly to deal with dysfunction around communication and conflict resolution. But, believe it or not, there’s something more primary.
Surely, we will discuss much more than the following dozen points of an unexhaustive list, but we must have some structure to be guided by God by; structure gives purpose and hope; it sets direction; it gives us something to trust as we seek God for the help only the Lord can provide.
I’ve learned the need for structure the hard way; when I trusted a process of guiding couples without structure and did them and I and God a great disservice. So, structure is necessary. It is the guiding light of God’s holy wisdom.
Here are some of the general points that need to be part of the first session, in no particular order:
1.             What work have you done on your marriage previously? Have you done a Prepare-Enrich inventory or similar? What do you already know about yourselves from previous marriage counsellors and mentors. What tools are you already equipped with? We need wisdom to quantify where the issues reside, and what to work on first.
2.             Teaching will be provided. It goes without saying that a lot of time can be needlessly consumed and wasted on red herrings that end up making matters worse. Getting torn up on present conflicts that only retraumatise, for instance. Marriage counselling is a place not only to hash things out, it’s a place to learn and discover. The counselling relationship is intended to model safety. It needs structure. Teaching the tools to equip the couple is an inherent part of good structure. I teach PeaceWise, Transactional Analysis, boundaries in marriage, languages of apology, among a host of other tools depending on what’s required.
3.             If you’re committed Christians, what is your theology for marriage? The hope is there is agreement on whether an egalitarian or complementarian approach is best. My bent is toward an egalitarian approach, but if the couple in the room with me are both won to complementarianism then that’s fine with me. There must be a shared vision for marriage. Most of all, what is most fundamental about marriage is that it is about loving the other to such a degree that we are consumed less by our desires and more by what we can give them, this gift that God has placed into our hands for companionship and safekeeping.
4.             Talking about vision, and this is pertinent especially for those in second marriages and blended families, I like to know what vision the marriage partners have for cohesive family in the broader context of the word ‘family’ i.e. with ex-partners and families. My preference is for a vision where the broader family can get along and do so without faking it. Though sometimes we do need to fake it until we make it. A cohesive broader family context is such a gift to the children. It is a vision for the best kind of reconciliation possible in a broken circumstance. How will celebrations of our children’s eighteenth and twenty-first’s possibly be joyous occasions where parents and step-parents get along as friends, or at least be friendly? It has to be a vision we work toward.
5.             What gauge do you have for your own baggage? What self-awareness is there? And is that perception of good self-awareness shared by your partner? Most of us think we’re further along the growth path than we actually are. Does your partner think you are self-aware, and of equal importance, able to manage your emotionality? We all have more work to do; we never truly ‘arrive’. Our perceptions of our own humility and character, in the context of marriage, are often bloated beyond reality. And that is okay. That is pretty normal. It’s time to be brutally honest. Honesty will never kill us, but pride can end marriages or at least kill them of the kind of life they ought to have. We need also to recognise that growth is dependent on a change of mind at a heart level; only a change of mind at a heart level (Christians call it repentance) creates sustained changed behaviour.
6.             For those in second marriages, what baggage are you reading into your present partner from previous partner/s? It’s common to see in a present partner what we struggled with and ultimately rejected in our former partner. It is often a default, because our vision is now piqued or skewed a particular way. Could it be true that we might have a bend toward a certain kind of perception? What stories are we unconsciously saying to ourselves? Is a skewed perception preventing you from seeing what is virtuous and acceptable about your present partner? Baggage will always prevent contentment in marriage.
7.             A warning needs to be issued: please expect matters in your marriage to get worse before they get better. Too many times we see that marriage counselling as the silver bullet when in all reality most people leave counselling far too late when significant damage has already been done. Undoing the damage takes time. A fair expectation for change is 1-2 years. Why should we be in a hurry? What’s most important is the willingness to begin the work, and the commitment to follow it through. All I’m saying is it is challenging work. Counselling is necessary, but most of the work is done by the couples applying the principles spoken about. It all takes time.
8.             Two questions for me as the helper in the session are, 1) ‘Lord, make me aware of what I need to be aware of in this situation, Amen’; and 2) ‘Lord, am I seeking to serve this couple or to exert power?’ I am a helper and I am responsible. I recognise I have power, and that power is influence. It’s a precious thing I must take seriously. I want you to know that I want you to challenge me if ever you feel it necessary. I am aware of the power I have and need to help you. But, relationally we are equals here. That said, I want you to be aware that your perceptions are yours alone, and they need to be tested with others to see if they are shared, otherwise they are only your truth and not the truth.
9.             As dynamics develop in the session itself, the above questions need to be at the forefront of my mind and thinking, even to the extent of discerning whether each partner in the couple is seeking to serve the other or to exert power. We are always aiming to serve the other and die to self. Wherever we cannot model that there will be a gentle bringing to account.
10.        Where does the Third Entity feature in your marriage? Is God central in the Presence of your marriage? Do you take things to the Lord, individually about yourselves and together as a couple? Does God convict you of your sin? Does God help you get the log out of your own eye? Does that then lead to confession, apology, forgiveness and restoration? Again, I teach PeaceWise.
11.        I want you to leave your first session, and do this in subsequent sessions too, prepared not to react angrily with your partner for what they said or did not say or for anything they did. Take it to the Lord for a day or three. Raise it only in a productive way. Value and exemplify the safety we will model in this counselling process.
12.        Finally, I am going to ask you to trust me. This may be a strange request given that you are already trusting me. But what I am asking is that you would continue to trust my guidance, especially when it is one of you only who wants to rescind that trust. If one still trusts, the other ought to trust me enough to share with me how I’ve hurt you or missed you. Challenge me. If you both are of one accord to remove your trust I will respect your decision. By all means, test what I say with others. If it isn’t from God, it needs to die.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

The responsibility we have to friends

Deep friendships mean abysmal betrayals, when, for some reason, the relationship ends.
Inevitably every close relationship, friendships particularly, are affected by conflict, and ultimately some skirmish occurs to test the strength of trust between two buddies.
There’s deep hurt, sorrow, anguish, and loneliness. But things can get even more complex if one or both begin to interact from a platform of that hurt.
It stands to reason that it’s when we’re hurt we have more capacity to hurt others. And when the other person is hurt they will not respond well to our hurtful comments and behaviour.
Friends really have a responsibility to one another, and if one doesn’t take responsibility surely it’s up to the other. What an irony it is that one person from the eroded friendship must take the role of being a friend.
But what is the role of a friend when they’re in conflict with another friend?
Well, the obvious thing to say is this; if they don’t act as a friend, the friendship has no future. Not just that, the friendship will ever more be a source of pain that cannot and will not be reconciled.
Bitterness is bred on the spread of relational distance,
the refusal to vulnerably admit and lovingly address hurts.
A friend must act beyond their feelings of sadness and anger from betrayal, and genuinely reach forth to their friend as if the hurt hadn’t occurred in the first place. That’s right, for one attempt, or perhaps one more, it’s the godly thing to reach out and endeavour to understand the hurt in our friend.
This is helped by getting the log
out of our own eye first (Matthew 7:1-5).
It would be a waste of their time and ours, and potentially catastrophic to an already damaged friendship, to reach out without being ready to assume our own responsibility for what went wrong.
Remembering that the premise of this article is the initial interactions to get the friendship back on track after conflict, reconciliation can start with us. Redemption is in our hands if we walk humbly with our friend.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Am I seeking You, God, or power?

Photo by Kari Shea on Unsplash

I have a sticky note plastered to a bookcase in full view as I type these words. It’s a prayer. It goes like this:
Lord, make me aware of
what I need to be aware of
in THIS situation. Amen.
A person like me, with my gifts and loves, needs to be reminded regularly of the seen and unseen contexts with which I’m required to operate. I’ve made too many errors by not having this prayer consciously before me. It’s a good weapon in my prayer arsenal.
Let me make a confession. It was my wife who, over a year ago now, suggested I pray this prayer as often as I could.
I mention this because only recently, during an ongoing conversation on our pastoral response to abuse generally, which is highly topical over the world presently, my wife shared with me another nugget of wisdom; another prayer. It goes like this:
Lord, reveal my heart.
Am I seeking to serve
or to exert power? Amen.
Especially as we endeavour to minister in spaces where exertions of power are manifest all the time, we’re reminded not to respond like-for-like. Conflict never abates when retaliation occurs.
It seemed to us, as we unpacked this revelation given to my wife, that, as a prayer, it’s a good test of our motives at any given time, for serving is the diminution to the denunciation of power. And that is always a good thing. Especially when we’re in roles with power, it’s important to discharge those roles without exerting power.
The exertion of power ought to be God’s prerogative. There are certainly times when we seek a demonstration of God’s power, but the exertion of power in relationships only serves to interrupt the dynamics of trust and respect.
Yet, we’re all tempted into acts of exerting power, and we’re all blindsided by others in their exertion of power against us. Of course, abuse is the misuse of power. Always has been, always will be.
As I pray this prayer I hear God reminding me of His power as I serve. And I’m able to hear Him gently reminding me of the inappropriateness of cavorting with power that isn’t mine to wield.
The exertion of power damages people and it dishonours God, but serving builds people up and it glorifies God.
Am I seeking to serve or to exert power? Am I genuinely trusting You for the next step along life’s path, or am I making my way in my own strength with whatever power I can exert? Especially in those fractured relationships, Lord, help me to seek to serve, and to trust You for the reconciliation I seek.

Friday, June 1, 2018

The boundary of ‘I get to choose my friends’

Photo by Robert Collins on Unsplash

This is a straight forward article with one point:
my friend does not get to choose
those others I choose to be friends with.
I could leave it at that. But I won’t, because it helps to know why.
I think it also helps to keep this article in the first person — that is, I will speak for myself. This will allow you to judge for yourself whether it’s something you wish to adopt.
My friend does certain things that prove their capacity for friendship. The one in focus is they don’t try and control me. It’s hoped also that they don’t try to control anyone else I love either.
Control is the central issue here.
Control is the misuse of power.
Control kills relationships dead.
Friends don’t say, ‘you can’t be friends with
this person or that person’, or ‘choose who
you will be friends with —
me or them; one or the other.’
(Unless it’s their wise boundary)
My own gauge for people will lead me to judge who I will associate with. If I make an error in that process, I’m solely responsible for that error, but it must be left to me to decide.
Now, it would be different if my friend said to me, ‘Be careful with that person you’re calling a friend,’ based on some tangible reason of authentic, loving warning, and then follow it up with the words and behaviour of, ‘But it’s your choice who you’re friends with.’ Notice how I said behaviour. This means, having said what they have said, no further correspondence is entered into to deride the other person. Another friend’s words and actions are then in the vein of being for me instead of being against the friend they’ve advised me against.
When I say ‘my friend’ in the initial my-friend-does-not-get-to-choose-those-others-I-choose-to-be-friends-with statement I mean the kind of person who acts like a genuine friend does. That person who is my friend will not seek to control me in any way. They have their voice and should speak honestly to me, but they must understand and accept that my decisions and actions are mine and no coercion should occur.
Of course, this is hard. I’ve been in situations where I would have preferred friends to not associate with certain people who have hurt me, for instance. Indeed, I’ve been foolish enough to try and control who my friends choose to be friends with; I’ve seen my error, and I try to be alert to such behaviour and to turn from it.
Friends operate in a space that’s fair where
both are afforded the trust of freedom.

And, at the risk of being contradictory, there are times when my friend might choose to end their friendship with me because they believe so firmly that this new friendship is a bad idea. But they don’t endeavour to control me in the process. They simply decide to move on, harbouring no ill feeling toward me or the other person. Of course, that is very hard to pull off, but the idea is they’re not trying to control me.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

For those who suffer in silence

Photo by Kate Williams on Unsplash

On the same day as I attended training for dealing with abuse I met up with likeminded others to discuss the make-up of a conference for silent grief. Loss connects them both.
Loss connects so much of the kind of life we never thought possible — until we are confronted and then confounded by grief. And if grief has blindsided you, chances are high that you’re suffering in silence. In abuse, too. So often.
Suffering and silence are correlated.
They double the other’s effect.
They’re like identical twins.
They enmesh in grief.
But it doesn’t finish there. There is hope. It’s in silence, where we’re bereft of human contact or empathy (or both), where the opportunity’s pregnant to have a divine encounter.
But this article is not really about that — I write plenty on that subject.
This is about saying I hear you, and there are those out there who exist for you; yes, their whole life purpose is to enter that struggle and silence and suffering with you, if you’ll have them there with you. Not to advise you, but to make the journey a little less lonely and a little more meaningful.
For those who suffer in silence, there are plenty out there who do identify, and when you connect with these people, there is a light-bulb moment for the both of you.
Perhaps you enjoy your independence. Good for you. But even those who are independent face loneliness, boredom and the excruciating reality of grief when they’ve suffered loss.
There is a lot to be said for gathering with those you can depend on for your independence. This is about entering the fray of life and taking a risk to enter the lives of others. Only to the point of balance I mean. And you just might find someone who really wants to know how you are and how well (or not) you’re coping.
Maybe you’re suffering in silence and you’re not ready to venture out yet. Perhaps you really don’t see any hope. That could just be how you’re feeling today. You’re forgiven for feeling that. Nobody ought to judge you, and perhaps you can see if God doesn’t judge you for it, you can go a little easier on yourself, too. If you’re already suffering in silence.
You could be suffering in silence because you’re stigmatized or ostracised or forlorn or scattered. Perhaps none of the reasons outlined here identify with you at all, yet you suffer in silence; please know you are heard here, that I’m thinking about you, that my heart yearns for you to be met.
Suffering in silence takes a certain kind of resigned bravery. It takes the sort of strength many people have no idea about. It is strength in weakness. It is God’s strength, and whether you feel God or not, He is close.
Your heart is for those who suffer in silence.
I pray for grace and peace in the suffering and silence.
Enter them right now as they read this prayer.
Encounter them and revive their hope.
Give them every good thing.
In Jesus name.
And of course, my prayer is you’re able to break out from your silence… at the right time and in the right way for you.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Why biblical advocates against abuse deserve church support

Blessed is the church to have such resources as the above at its disposal.

I was perplexed recently when an advocate for victims of abuse said that ‘very few men and very few church leaders actively endorse and promote’ her work. As I pondered my response, God said to me, ‘There are too many reasons why this is all wrong. Write on that.’
So, this is an attempt to analyse the depth of the problem and the amount of reasons why there is a lack of support for this and other advocates for victims of abuse:
1.      This particular advocate is widely read, knowledgeable, biblically astute, with a wealth of personal and direct experience of others to draw from. This is true of most advocates. Because of what they’ve seen and gone through, they devote their lives to doing what they do. They live and breathe it. They leave no stone unturned. And they’re constantly learning and engaging with their network. The church needs people like this to lead, to be given a prophetic voice, for that’s what they are.
2.      Advocates stay the journey, for they believe they have a purpose in putting a spotlight on something the world and the church would rather pretend doesn’t exist. Advocates deserve a hearing simply because they bear a terrifically negative burden for the years of their lifetime. Advocates won’t go away. They simply won’t bow to the injustices that have and continue to take place. And they suffer the constant indecency of being undignified.
3.      Advocates are like prophets, and we know how poorly prophets are treated; we only need open our Bibles to discover this historical truth. The prophet’s voice is often received abysmally when it’s a rebuke. And despite the elements against it, advocates continue courageously delivering words from God. They deserve a hearing simply for the toll being ignored must take.
4.      It’s concerning that the church does not generally want to promote the work of a person who will inevitably speak into many lives. A church of 200 must have at least 30 people who’ve suffered abuse.
5.      Point 4 needs to be elaborated. The advocate I have in mind has not only had a long experience of domestic abuse, that account was exacerbated by worse than poor support from the church. Today’s church is being damned for its re-traumatisation of abuse victims through, in many cases, of not taking claims of abuse seriously and not investigating (though there is far more to it than this). So that is ever more reason for the church to endorse and promote this work. It doesn’t at its peril. It’s the role of the church to champion these kinds of issues.
6.      How can the most obvious reason fall to number 6? It’s easy to answer that. These are all obvious reasons. The most obvious reason is the support they lend to those who have similar if not the same stories. They’re guides for healing ultimately, but initially they’re human resource centres, sounding boards, confidantes, believers-in-victims, and even human shields. I know an advocate personally who has put her health at risk and on the line many times to stand in the gap for those individuals coming behind her.
7.      This is the last reason, for seven must surely prove the point. There are more, and I will add them as they come to mind and as I have time. The seventh reason is simply the recognition that for return on investment (normally a financial term) the advocate experiences far less encouragement and far more ostracization contrasted with the deeper work they do as compared with other ministers (and I mean deeper in the spiritual warfare realm).
It’s astounding when churches don’t give overt support to advocates for the abused, but I think this could be about to change. I thank God for the #MeToo and #ChurchToo campaigns. The church must advocate for the abused, not be part of the problem.
As the prophet Amos said, ‘But let justice flow like water, and righteousness, like an unfailing stream.’ (Amos 5:24)

Acknowledgement to Barbara Roberts, the advocate who inspired this article. She can be followed at: @NotUnderBondage and https://www.facebook.com/BarbaraRobertsNUB/ and cryingoutforjustice.com and Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/A-Cry-for-Justice-196307250499415/

Sunday, May 27, 2018

White flag ministry for acceptance in failure and brokenness

Photo by Ksenia Makagonova on Unsplash

Dido’s White Flag (2003) came to be an anthem for me in a season of musical anthems. I can’t be sure whether the words resembled my heart or if my heart grew to accept the words of the song. Little did it matter.
What mattered, alone, was that the pain of accepting my loss was more pleasurable than the bitterness I could have chosen in resenting my ex-partner.
The very weird thing in this was the agreement I made with the will of God; the vulnerability of simply saying, ‘I give this person up who I so desperately want… I don’t want to give her up… but I must give her up.’
This is White Flag’s hauntingly committed chorus:
I will go down with this ship,
and I won’t put my hands up and surrender,
there will be no white flag above my door,
oh I’m in love and always will be.
This song is astounding in what it conceives as possible in the realm of emotional management.
The lyrics speak of a person so smitten with their ex-partner that they cannot war with them even though the relationship is over.
It speaks of the peak of love
in the peak of grief.
And the weirdest thing about the faith involved in balancing two seemingly opposed purposes is it’s possible, and not only that, but so very purposeful. It’s when grief takes a life all its own and energy is given instead of being sapped.
A white flag ministry is an absolute imperative
in a season of failure and brokenness.
Such a ministry is discharged solely between two entities — us and God — even if a third party is centrally involved. And it is God’s therapy to us in our aloneness, in our second-guessing, in our head-and-heart struggle, in our teary meltdowns, and in our narcissistic aloofness, that shows us that we must attend to this fractious and feverish season face up and head on.
The only way we can manage to do that
is through a courageous honest vulnerability.
This white flag ministry with God, where His Spirit ministered to me in a way no human being can, showed me that the only answer to the hell I was facing was to raise the white flag whilst refusing to show it.
In simpler words, I learned that I had to do two things that seem opposed at the same time: 1) give up on the relationship that only I wanted, and 2) not give up on my love for her.
And the only way to rationalise and reconcile the enigma presented in that was to agree to love the person I could not have. I would need to love her through my prayers in wishing for her the love she sought that I, at that time, was unable to give.
That kind of sacrificial humility can come only from God,
through trust, which necessitated the need to be close to Him.
We cannot give up that which we would insist on keeping
without drawing close, clung as it were, to God.
It takes a lot to recognise and reconcile our
human frailties in our human strength,
but it is easy to accept our human frailties
in God’s power and have Him change them.
That is why I say this white flag ministry is an absolute imperative. It’s why the gospel is needed in every person’s life. It’s why the world needs to know and be converted to Christ. Everyone ought to know that the secret to everything in life is that life must have been, at one time, lived authentically through loss. It is the golden gateway to the only proper selfhood.
Our conceitedness must be crucified with Christ
before we can live the Christian endeavour.
This gospel power makes reconciling loss in a way that’s possible — it turns what is impossible in human strength into a possibility through God’s power.
Here is White Flag in a YouTube clip.