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Monday, September 16, 2019

Schooling transgressors in respect with boundaries

Boundary transgressors come in all shapes, sizes, situations, overt and covert, both subtle and belligerent and all manner between. If we take Jesus seriously in living a life devoted to speaking truth in love, we will need boundaries for many kinds of people and scenarios. Sure, none of this is easy, but it is all imperative.
Boundary transgressions happen to us in the supermarket, in schools and colleges, on sporting fields, and, hazard to say this, even in our own homes! (Who would have thought?)
Actually, they happen in our own homes most of all; within our families and rippling out from our closest friendships to our least acknowledged acquaintances.
You know that feeling of having been used, don’t you? Sure, you do. We all do. Unless that is, we’re a ‘use-ee’. Here’s an everyday, minor example: it’s the friend request from the person who, the moment we accept, bombs us with page and group suggestions without even a hint of, “Hey, I’m so-and-so.” It’s just another way of being spammed. We let it go. There are, however, far more despicable transgressions we need boundaries for.
Speaking the truth in love requires courage but be encouraged; if it’s doing God’s will that motivates you, you’ll love executing boundaries.
Boundaries are a loving way to say, “Ah, wait a minute; no you don’t!” You see, it’s loving to not let people get away with pushing us around. It’s called being assertive, and biblically there’s a name for it. It’s called peacemaking. Not peacekeeping! PeaceMAKING.
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When we make peace, we do what we need to do to make peace occur in our living situations. We insist that our peace is something we wish to retain. We cannot exude peace if someone causes us to lose our peace. We must retain our peace, then, to be of any good effect in others’ lives.
Making peace with others who disrespect us is done through boundaries. When we execute a boundary by saying, “Umm, no!” we invite the other person to learn what would be preferable. It’s not our fault if they reject our invitation. But if they take us up, our invitation has given them an opportunity to learn what is reasonable in terms of the status quo between us. We’re on a journey of creating peace between us.
But if someone insists we’re being unreasonable by stating what we think is reasonable we have a bigger problem on our hands. The relationship as it stands is untenable. We may need to check that we have spoken the truth in love—that it was communicated calmly and gently though clearly and firmly. We might seek clarification over what we did wrong in communicating our requirement; did it hurt their feelings, for instance?
If it hurt their feelings (or that they were angry) and we were being gentle with them, we have another bigger problem. We may need to communicate that we’re puzzled as to why they would be hurt (or angry) when we were merely communicating clearly and calmly. The conversation itself is a boundary conversation. Grown people should be able to negotiate without threatening each other.
For those who insist on doing what they want, when and how they want, despite what we might feel, our mere raising of boundaries may send them into shock and flurry. Be prepared for it. We hold our ground in humility and courage.
So, here’s the test of whether you’re relating with a narcissist or not. A narcissist will not take kindly to our assertive request that a boundary be honoured. It will either be greeted with anger and rage or a simmering vengeful discontent will fill them; watch out for this latter response! “Expect it when you least expect it,” might well be their modus operandi.
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We understand that we have a role in their discipleship. When we understand our lives in the context of the glory of God, we understand that God requires of us to deal maturely in all manner of our lives, including, as it pertains to this, how we interact with others. We must speak the truth in love.
So, having taken our responsibilities seriously in loving others appropriately, for to love is appropriate, we commit to doing and saying what must be done and said. Even, especially even, when it causes conflict. How will they know what we need otherwise?
We take counsel of these words, too, in our own lives. We learn that when others speak the truth in love that they’re to be honoured, even when it feels challenging for us in the moment; when their boundary is reasonable, and it requires change of us. How can we expect them to respect our boundaries if we flout theirs?
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Boundaries are beautiful. They give us a frame for relating with others. They help reinforce respect, and where respect thrives trust survives. Boundaries breathe freedom into relationships, for when we know the boundaries, we can respect them and be blessed by those who appreciate our respect.

Photo by Michael Dziedzic on Unsplash

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Okay, let’s talk inappropriate sexual relationships

How can an experience that feels so wonderful (or promises to feel so incredible)—a mountain-top experience for the senses—be so absolutely fundamentally wrong as to be one of life’s most treacherous paradoxes? If not one of the most, THE most. There is no hint of exaggeration in this!
Anyone who’s been betrayed by marital infidelity knows how deep the cut goes; eviscerating us at a soul level—the person we trusted most involved in not only the worst unfaithfulness can be, but it changes our whole life, and other innocents we care about, and instant grief journeys commence with ferocious immediacy.
But this is not just about marriage. It extends to every relationship. 
In every relationship other than with our marriage partner (which is also fraught with its own dangers especially due to assumption and miscommunication) we are capable of acting complicit or otherwise with others in ways that may bring disgrace that is almost impossible to erase; reputations completely re-written seemingly overnight.
Every inappropriate sexual relationship has as its end the damaging of other relationships that extend out in a ripple of shame.
And this article, from the get-go, is not against sex-before-marriage relationships per se. Sex-before-marriage, between two ‘free’ adults, is nothing like ‘inappropriate’ in comparison to affairs and many forms of sexual abuse.
What about ‘consensual relationships’
Let’s talk consent. How wrong it is for men and women to make assumptions on the issue of consent. Rape or sexual assault occurs within marriages where men (usually in this case) assume they have a right to sex, and then act on that ‘right’. Of course, there’s no such right, even in marriage. Intimacy as a fruit of trust goes before the sexual encounter for sex to be truly consensual.
But what about other inappropriate sexual relationships, like a doctor with her patient, a pastor with his worship leader or parishioner, a manager with an employee, that may seem at least for one person as ‘consensual’. This is not just about the power differential; though that’s the obvious thing. Those in loftier positions need to guard their hearts to the degree that even inappropriate sexual thoughts are no-go zones, let alone the accommodation of flirting and actions that easily become sexual advances.
Where we don’t guard our hearts,
we should expect our hearts will fall.
Those in loftier positions don’t just have more power, they have a power, a charisma, an allure, an untouchability, an attractiveness that people in ‘lesser’ positions will be forgiven for coveting at either a conscious or an unconscious level. Consciously, those with less influence are given to feeling guilty for ‘advancing’ with this other person, which is the very genesis of the effects of sexual abuse. If they’re unconscious to what’s going on, and this happens very often, they’re actually being betrayed by the more influential party at a far deeper level that may well create future trauma.
To make the person in the less powerful position in any way responsible for ‘flirting’ or bringing the relationship into being is a farce of the evilest proportions.
And something specifically for people in pastoral positions. There is what’s termed a fiduciary function that is fundamental to such ‘pastoral’ roles. They are inherently about trust—the trust all manner of people place in the office. Pastoral roles are integrally ambassadorial. Pastors are regents—it isn’t our power we wield, because we are custodians of the most awesome power given in holiness by God.
How utterly anachronistic it is then that a pastor would find themselves in an inappropriate sexual relationship. It ends the call to ministry, unless by some grace on God’s part that some ministry could emerge out of the pastor’s recovery, but probably not as a pastor. The only way one could foreseeably be reinstated pastorally is if there was, for some valid reason, a universal chorus of ascent to the concept.
For the rest of us
There are thousands of attractive people in our immediate reach—all good looking, all good sounding, who move in interesting ways, all cute in their unique way, all mysterious enough to captivate our attention.
So, why pick one to have an inappropriate relationship with?
Wouldn’t it be better to concede before God, “Lord, You know I need protection from myself here, because without wisdom, discernment and self-control I know I’m capable of doing something that is not only totally inappropriate, I could bring so much harm as to destroy life through my betrayal.”
Those who think they’re beyond temptation in the area of sexual sin are just fooling themselves. Let us rather be honest about how virulently our hearts are won to sin. Let us imagine the betrayal that is experienced by those we love and others along the way who never deserve to be dealt a grief process. All, in some cases, for a ‘fling’.
For Christian men, we must remember that Jesus was pro-women in many ways that complementarians may deny. We must hold this in tension with the angling of our hearts when it comes to the women in our midst, and even those we see on our screens.
A final word on pornography. It’s an inappropriate sexual relationship just as bad as one with a real person. Recall Jesus speak in castigating terms about even a look of lust…
Which leads me to finish by saying this. None of us is pure, and all of us have at least had thoughts, feelings and temptations. Let us commit afresh, each day, to cutting these off at the pass with clinical precision. God is always watching.

Photo by nrd on Unsplash

Friday, September 13, 2019

Empathy I’ll give, but pander to self-pity, really?

Empathy is the power of care in a world that often doesn’t. And yet, we might suspect that there are plenty of indicators that the vast majority of the world, like ourselves at least as a representation of our microculture, really does care to care.
But there is often the taking advantage of such care.
It’s a known fact, for instance, that empaths are more likely to land in a relationship with someone who will take advantage of the empathy on offer, especially through the employment of self-pity. Yes, it’s a common phenomenon to see empaths and narcissists team up as partners or feature in family dynamics; there are no winners even if the narcissist insists on winning.
A therapist friend once said to me, “The world needs more highly sensitive people, not less.” Of course, I agreed. But highly sensitive people can well exhibit both empathy and self-pity.
What I find, however, is people who are highly sensitive usually eventually feel guilty for their self-pity and usually they repent. There is another kind of person, however, who maximises the empathy on offer and they wring it out with self-pity that has no guilt nor repentance about it. The narcissist is clearly indicated in that they do not do repentance.
A self-justified self-pity takes no prisoners. You bow to its demands or else—the stakes are raised.
For empathy to truly work so it’s a venerable weapon for good, it cannot be manipulated by the person who has weaponised self-pity. Indeed, when that occurs the ‘empathy’ has become something that is no longer a force for care, but an enabler for the narcissistic. Such ‘empathy’ is worse than hopeless.
It has ceased to be empathy. It has been contorted into something dangerous.
That’s right; the narcissist has mastered the ability to extract pity. And if there is to be further exposure of this mastery, all we need do is become a little less reactive to their sorrowful overtures that are actually designed to exploit such care.
Perhaps they know when to be quiet and sullen and even tacitly supportive; to get their own way. Watch for any string that’s attached. Time always tells. If they genuinely deserve our empathy, they won’t demand it, whether that’s an overt demand of, “You really don’t care about me, do you?” to a covert demand that isn’t spoken in words, but may be discerned in body language and gestures.
We all need empathy from others from time to time, just as we should be adept at giving it. And the nature of relationships is they should be a little give and a little take. We all need care at times, just like at other times we’re better positioned to provide that care. It’s always a privilege and a blessing to do so.
But it’s incumbent on us to not be taken advantage of by people, especially family and partners, noticing how innate our family roles become; where we may be sucked into enabling someone who has weaponised their self-pity and always seem to get what they wish.
It does them no good for us to pander to their whims, and it does them a service to receive a tougher, truth-laced love that says, “No, treating me and others like that—through a pitiful selfish self-pity—is quite enough, already. You can have my care, but I won’t allow my care to be manipulated.”
For empaths to carry through with this love of shrewd stewardship, however, a high degree of self-discipline is required. A clever narcissist loves a challenge!

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Depression as a spiritual nemesis to be expected and faced

It’s no new thing for Christians and pastors to struggle with depression. I think to Charles Spurgeon, and John Bunyan and Martin Luther suffered tremendous anxiety. Depression is an occupational risk for pastors and it’s a vocational reality for many Christians.
Spiritually, we’re all targets. The enemy wants us discouraged, despairing and disillusioned. And ultimately the enemy does have success to a degree.
Add to this reality the nature of relationships, which are innately upsetting (others to us, us to others). Whether we like it or not, we give people a certain power over us. Their opinions matter, whether we loath that idea or not, and just about all of us do.
Then there are the unrealistic expectations we have for ourselves, often driven by unspoken demands of others. For ten encouragements, we may find that one negative thing feels like a spike driven straight into our heart, and this is particularly the case when we sense that we’re targeted by someone who is not ‘for’ us.
Finally, there’s the fact of our existential aloneness, and this can seem especially surprising to Christians, but it shouldn’t be. We were built for connection, and yet we ourselves are islands by nature. We must be very intentional about connection and courageously honest if we’re to stay mentally healthy.
But the idea of our spirituality—whether we seriously consider ourselves ‘spiritual’ or not—is enticing. My wife was telling me that at an RUOK Day talk they mentioned stomping on ants—ants being automatic negative thoughts. Our mentality feeds and feeds off our emotions and all this affects our spirit.
It’s not just that the work we do to build God’s Kingdom is a threat to the enemy. That’s the given. It’s the idea that we are God’s property that the enemy hates most of all. If there’s any way we can doubt our surety of salvation—that we were worthy of Jesus’ sacrifice, of the Father giving the Lord over, for us—the enemy is in on that. It’s a spiritual conquest that follows us pre-salvation, all the way to the cusp of death.
I can tell you personally, as a person who was called to ministry 15 years ago, who has held multiple pastoral positions, given 7.5 years to Masters level study, and counselled and mentored many, I have been astounded as to how quickly I can slide into a depression, and how insidiously anxiety has become me.
The descent of those thoughts, the downward spiral, the negative trajectory, can be so sudden, and there’s nothing personal about it, because this phenomenon is common to all humanity. We’re not weak to be susceptible. There’s much more to it than that!
Why would we not expect pastors and Christians not to get depressed or suffer anxiety and panic attacks? Perhaps our susceptibility leads us to God in the first place, and once we’re the Lord’s there is suddenly a higher price on our head.
The enemy wants to steal our hope, kill our faith, destroy our love for God; the enemy does this through deep discouragement and by causing us to doubt that God indeed loves and protects us.
The more God matters to us, the more the enemy hates it. The more God matters to us, the more the Kingdom matters, the more susceptible we are to lament this broken world and indeed our own brokenness. Of course, we must balance all this up with a healthy dependence on God, which is never an easy proposition.
The more we trust and love and fear God, the less we will trust and love and fear things that don’t deserve our reverence.
But we must expect mental illness and face it when it arrives. There are no guarantees as far as recovery is concerned, but one thing is guaranteed: God loves every single one us eternally, no matter the status of our mental health, and there’s nothing any of us can do to be separated from God’s love.
We face our depression when we have expected it. More seminary courses need syllabi on this occupational risk. More Christians need to hear it preached in sermons. More pastors need to take the risk of being transparent. There’s no shame in having depression. But we do need to be reminded of this when we’re suffering.
For me, the moment it dawns on me that I’m depressed is a good moment. My wife will tell anyone it’s when I begin to face it that I begin to climb out of it. I’m not for one moment suggesting, however, that that’s a foolproof method. But it is a fact. Whenever we face something, we receive hope in exchange for the courage we show.

Photo by Jen Theodore on Unsplash

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Advice for husbands whose wives seek divorce

Oh, so I wish this subject never came up, especially for the children, but it’s fifty percent eventually nowadays. Men, I’ve been there. Heartbroken, confused, and even if we have been narcissistic, there is still hope if we can be repentant (but, of course, the truly narcissistic person will not recover).
Did you notice a connection I made for you there, men? Be repentant and recover. If you don’t give way to what God is now revealing, there is no hope for you and your children. If you care for yourself and for your kids, you will relent, you will endeavour to soften your heart, and to begin to lead how you should always have led. It’s not too late to turn.
Indeed, the invitation is just that. Stop kicking against the goads that look menacing but were placed there by the Spirit of God for your own correction and good.
Trust me on this: give up what you cannot keep, and you will gain what you cannot lose. Truly, I have lived it.
Ensure that you do not make your ex-wife’s life hell any longer. It’s time for you to love her like never before; like how Jesus loves her. No bargaining to get her back or have your own way or manipulate even one thing.
When you begin to get this right, men, you will feel like a loser from a worldly viewpoint. She may look at you and say, “What are you doing giving me more than I want? Why is it you’re behaving like this now? Are you trying to undo me?” Let the words be. Make your actions speak. Stop looking for credit. Be consistent, time and time and time again.
Give your family and marriage up to God and promise to God that you’ll do whatever your Lord wants you to do, no matter the cost.
You may say, “You’re bloody crazy!” It sounds insane. I’m imploring you to give up your agenda. Stop pretending you have control over anything. Accept that your life is and always has been in the lap of God.
What freedom there is when we know how little control we have over life, yet how much control we have to sow goodness.
Respect her no end. For all those failures to love her by disrespecting her, make your covenant before the Lord now, that you will honour her to your dying day—not just because it’ll bless the socks off your kids, but because it’s right to do that. If you can serve this woman that you now say has betrayed you, you can serve anyone, and if you can take your responsibility for the failure of the relationship, all will end up unbelievably better—beyond your concept of imagination.
Cast your hopes on God now, men. Your Lord is truly your only hope. Do it now with all the conviction in you. Seek Godly counsel. Learn as much as you can about how deep and how vast your failure in the relationship has been. The more open you are to learning, the more God will heal you.
Don’t even let your mind go to prospects of the ‘next’ relationship. You’ve got a lot of work in front of you if only you’re honest. Doubt my credibility? I spent three years there, and still there was so much to learn to even be a safe husband for my wife. Don’t jump into that next relationship. You will waste another 5-10 years of your life if you do that, because second and third marriages fail at even higher rates.
Don’t doubt the depths to which God wants to plumb in you. It’s not that you’re a bad seed or anything; it’s just that you do have so much potential, but only when honesty and humility are unplugged and tapped into.
Stop making excuses, men. Stop vacillating in and out of protecting yourself. If you trust God for your protection, that protection is enough. The more open your heart is to the brutality of the truth, the more your heart is soft to receive every nuance of that truth, the deeper God’s Presence will drive down into you and fill your soul.
Live for your kids now, men! Do whatever you can, men, to fall in filial love with each one. Learn how to listen into their every need and hidden wish. Learn to be the heavenly father on earth for these most precious of souls—your kith and kin. And listen to your ex-wife when she speaks to you about your kids.
Pray for your ex-wife that she gets the partner she deserves—one who will be for her like you could have been but weren’t. (Yes, this is a hard ask, but you can do it.) I have prayed this prayer so many times for my ex-wife that it helped me love her as my friend. Do not look in any way to the areas you think she didn’t meet your needs. That thinking will only take you to dark caverns that will lead to even darker actions. Do not insinuate anything in her behaviour or mental or emotional state. Don’t go there. Stay in your patch! 
Stay fit, men. Do not let a drop of the demon drink pass your lips or any drug not prescribed by a doctor. Jettison every addiction with every resource available to you. Learn to live in all purity. Stay chaste. God will reward you!
Whatever you do, men, stay alive. Your kids need you. Now more than ever. No matter your dark thoughts, you can never be replaced. Never, ever. Bank on this!

Photo by Bruno Aguirre on Unsplash

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Just how do you break bad news?

Pastorally, like every pastor I’m sure, I’m asked some pretty hard questions. Oftentimes I’m conscious of the breath-prayer I shoot up to God; “Lord, just how do I answer this one?”
Just about every time I find myself in these situations, however, I’m thankful for the spiritual assurance I get in being comfortable that I don’t need to have the answers provided I’m present and empathetic.
Just about no one expects us to fix their problems for them, even as we’re tempted to think it all depends on us. You’d be surprised how unimportant ‘advice’ is.
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One such question I got some time ago stumped me.
A father reaching out to me for a way to broach with his ten-year-old daughter the issue that the marriage between he and her mother was ending. It was not his idea nor his will to end the marriage, so he was also dealing with his own gut-wrenching grief, as he shared through a quivering chin and uncustomary tears, so concerned for how she would take the news.
He felt that his daughter had some idea that this was happening which was creating pressure for him to address the issue. I felt sad that not only was this a tough conversation for him to prepare for and have, but that it also revealed some lack of intimacy between them, which of course is not uncommon. (How many of us would feel perfectly equipped to have such a conversation with any of our children?)
Without imagining that he was guilt-free in consideration of why the marriage had failed, I reflect now about his most broken lament.
His heart was breaking for his daughter’s broken heart to come. His regret for the shaky status of his family. His despair for not being able to convince his wife to stay. His anguish at not being able to ‘fix’ this. His heart was, of course, also broken for himself. Like so many men and women in these situations, we can seriously doubt if we’ll make it through.
Now, he could possibly have been largely to blame for his situation. I concede that.
He was about to live out the consequences of a failed marriage. It was all ahead of him.
Having been there, and having been in the situation where I took responsibility for the failures I’d made of my first marriage, I wanted to encourage him to make the most of what seemed like a cruel opportunity. He would no doubt grow if only he could learn to rely on God. But how does one say that without it sounding heartless? I remembered how cruel that advice was when I received it—yet that truth can be spoken in love, but not without wisdom scaffolded in compassion.
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Just how do you bear bad news and break it in an appropriate way?
It’s a six-million-dollar question. Of course, we need to do it compassionately, but we also need to be direct. From a counselling viewpoint, I often make time and room for ‘warm up’ so there is at least the re-establishment of rapport before something heavy is ‘brought into the room’.
There is no ‘right’ set of words, but an equal mix of compassionate care with direct speech works best, I think.
Somehow, I think people are geared to absorb bad news because there is the safeguard of numbness. To feel numb, which is not a void of emotion, is the body’s way of coping with news far too great to absorb in one given moment. It’s the body’s way of being gentle with itself—when one’s reality is just too real. There are days and weeks and months ahead to apportion to the grief that will inevitably come; and so compassionate is God that it’s just a day at a time that we get them.
We can and we should call the person who is despairing to hope, but that must be done tenderly, even apologetically, which is a test of our humility. It requires great courage to be vulnerable; willing to fail for the purposes of compassion.
NOTE: some facts herein have intentionally been changed.

Photo by Carlos Arthur M.R on Unsplash

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Finding a way through what feels impossible to reconcile

Oh, I remember alright what this day five years ago represented. It was a Monday meeting at 1pm—in a hostile territory that should have been friendly.
It should not have been billed as Mission Impossible, but those were the stakes presented. A spiritual battle lay waste to any hope that sensible business could take place that day.
Moments like this—the actual minute—for me, 1.17pm—become etched into our psyches. Moments when what was anticipated actually begins to take place. A horrendous trajectory initiated.
What do we do when a mission of extraordinarily impossible odds breaks through the ether and thunders into the peace of our reality to wreak inestimable havoc? It can and does happen—to all of us.
Sometimes what happens could never have been predicted. At other times, we can see the devastation coming from some way off. But the effects in both situations leave us reeling for an effective, satisfactory response. Our best response at the time hardly seems sufficient, yet as we look back it was, because it was all we had.
The object of this article is not so much about suggesting ways to get through, as if set ways even exist; but it’s to encourage us all to gather the courage of poise in the moment, and to make meaning from what comes afterward.
I remember a few other moments of these kinds of proportions. Strangely, the moments of meeting Nathanael, stillborn, and the moments surrounding his funeral and our goodbyes weren’t traumatic though they were incredibly sad. The several moments I’ve experienced that were impossible to reconcile were infinitely harder than even the moments of cataclysmic sorrow.
How do we contend in those moments that seem to leave us strewn in a mess on the wake left behind us? Well, we survived them, didn’t we? No matter what these moments cost us, we do live to tell the tale, and to tell the tale is important; what happened was real and needs to be recognised for how it was.
I recall walking out of a mediation that went horribly wrong, where I hadn’t been kept safe at all; again, another minute etched into my psyche where life stood still—3.44pm, on February 25, 2016. I’m thankful that those moments are few and far between. I’m thankful that the entire year of 2016 is long gone. And I’m thankful that I not only survived that hugely testing year, I thrived as a result. That moment was one of the hardest I’ve ever faced, in supposed safety (and when ‘safe’ environments aren’t safe when we’re vulnerable, abuse tends to occur), and yet I look back and cannot help noticing the faithfulness of God who was there with me throughout.
What do we do to hold ourselves in these moments of overwhelm?
To begin with, we remind ourselves that we made it through. For those who are reading who’ve not been through such trials, take counsel of the faith. It simply works. Besides, there is no alternative. Would we rather capitulate? No, that is no option!
We must contend as the psalmist contends in Psalm 35. We fight the good fight of faith, even if that fight isn’t about fighting but surviving.
Finding a way to get through what feels impossible to reconcile at the time is mostly about knowing ‘this too, shall pass,’ and that the objective is to hold composure.
Getting through what anyone would consider an impossible moment just adds to the valour we see in ourselves—the courage that knows we can experience and survive such moments, especially because we’re not alone.
Some moments are full of trauma and the effects as well as the triggers become us. When we cannot reconcile a moment, we have many moments henceforth to make meaning enough to count. All this becomes fruit for learning and overcoming.
When moments dissolve into the territory of ‘this too, shall pass’, when we strain and seem to lose every sign of hope, let’s call on the truth that as each second passes, new possibilities remain as real and fervent hopes for the coming future that beckons, even now.

Photo by Shot by Cerqueira on Unsplash

Friday, September 6, 2019

Filled by the Spirit for the Spiritual Overflow

There is a truth none of us would disagree with: BrenĂ© Brown said, “We cannot selectively numb emotions, when we numb the painful ones, we also numb the positive ones.”
The deeper we go, the more we feel, the more courage we draw upon, the more adversity we wrestle with, the more we ultimately prosper. But to protect ourselves from experiences of pain by myriad manner of denial prolongs the pain; not only for us, but so sadly for those who come to rely on the adult we’re called to be for others.
The dividends of the halcyon heights of life cannot be paid out to us until we’re really willing to go spend our pain at the depths.
None of us can lead others to places we ourselves have not been prepared to go. If we have not been filled by the Spirit, there is no overflow; nothing in, nothing to offer out. Joy can only spill over from our lives into others’ lives if we’ve experienced the overflow—the palpable touch of God’s veritable presence. And when we’ve been touched by God, we live to bless others, and in no way for our own glory.
When we’re full of God everyone can see. But, if we feel like frauds, we must endeavour to give up what we cannot keep so that we can gain what can never be taken from us. If we feel hypocritical, the very best thing we can do is say, “Yes, I want to repent and do whatever is required to feel that I’m full of integrity to the glory of God.” There is no possession on this earth like it—to be filled by the Spirit such that there is a spiritual overflow that brings a smile to every person’s face, and even the vexatious person no fuel for troublemaking.
What is that to the lay person?
Our encounters with other human beings will be etched in such truth that we and they are allowed to be perfectly comfortable in our own skin within any sense of pretentiousness.
Joy and peace, gentleness and patience, and the reliability of trustworthiness, and so much more, are what others will come to enjoy from us. They love what we bring to each present moment because there is something real and safe about us. Like being home. We don’t need to prove anything to anyone. We can be as we are. We allow them to be who they are. There is no judgment in us even as we allow God to convict the heart.
We covet nothing in these moments of the Spirit’s infilling. We’re perfectly content while we feel this way, and contentedness sows grace and mercy into others’ lives. The Holy Spirit has become us. We have no doctrine to beat people up with. No opinion do we foist over others. We are just pleasant to be around. And we greet rudeness and crassness without displeasure by giving it no attention whatsoever.
This is the time when a person who does not know Christ might say, in a moment of Holy Spirit inspired curiosity, “There’s something different about this person. I want a piece of what they’ve got.” We all find these characteristics of amiability attractive in others.
Why would we not want to enjoy the personal fruit of being so attractive?
We have to end the way we began. We cannot experience this infilling without having suffered. See how God uses the depths of experience to inspire us to height?

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

The best lessons to be learned come from within the home

We get no better glimpse into our dark and wonderful psyche than through the mirror of relationship. Through such a lens we get data about ourselves that, in truth, we cannot refute… well, we can, but to our own and others’ peril; to the death of our growth and to the destruction of others that we leave in our wake.
But, let’s accentuate the positive. Having now been so privileged to have been invited into three dozen marriages as a therapist—a man who once (two decades ago) refused to embark on marriage counselling to my utter regret—I now know where I learn my best lessons: my own marriage and within my own family.
It’s in my own marriage where I’m reminded how much of a man I am. I can expect to be treated with sensitivity and yet can be rather insensitive. I believe in the phenomenon of white male privilege because I can see it in myself. Just about every marriage counselling session I provide I learn something about me and my marriage. Sometimes I feel like it should be me paying for the service and not those who are paying for it. And yet, all I’m learning is coming through God’s powerful revelation, because the Spirit of God knows what I need to know; the Lord gets through in many significant ways. (And I pray continually that I’ll see all that God is showing me.)
It’s my wife’s patience that teaches me gratitude. It’s her upholding of boundaries that teaches me a respect I should unequivocally have, yet at times don’t. It’s her not taking advantage of me that teaches me to be thankful for her calm, uncovetous spirit. And it’s when she departs from her virtuous character that God teaches me that nobody is perfect; that the grace she normally exudes is to be reciprocated. I don’t always get it right, however. And still, each of my children have also schooled me in God’s lessons for life.
In any and in every family, there are structures that work for that family. There are few ‘right’ ways, as there are so many. How long is a piece of string? It’s why no partner in a marriage has the right to say, “my way or the highway.” Both have and need a voice. Of course, safe boundaries always apply. The rules of apology (no matter who it is or what their role is) apply, always. Each person’s voice is, on matters of humanity and dignity, of equal importance. And yet, the marital unit needs to work in elevated unison for the betterment of the entire family. And still, the leaders serve the others.
It’s been during the times when I’ve failed most as a husband and as a father that I’ve learned the most. But we only learn and grow when we our hearts are open; when we ditch the idea that we’re in charge or beyond being wrong. Everyone hates injustice, children included, and how bad does life get when those injustices are rooted deeply in the home? How much worse is it when shame is hidden?
Where better are we to learn the most beautiful and yet at times the most painful of life lessons than in the home? Where will we find the most forgiveness? Where is the greatest hope of redemption? If only we’re soft-of-heart and not stiff-of-neck. If only we can seek forgiveness, prove our repentance through genuine heart change, and always live the hope that is borne only in the faith from the powers of God alone.
Whatever is our ‘trade’ we can learn so much from what goes on in our homes; if only we’re honest and humble enough to be vulnerable and admit when we get it wrong.
The marriage partner we all need is the one who is humble enough to confess their error, understand and acknowledge the hurt they cause, say they’re sorry, commit to doing better next time and genuinely get there, and who seeks to be forgiven. That marriage partner we need is the person we need to be for our partner. And if we find they refuse to party with that, we may find the marriage untenable. Ultimatums are okay when they inspire change.
Children, too, whether they be adult or juvenile, deserve to have adults as parents. This cannot always be taken as a given. It’s up to us fathers and mothers to be effective adults in our world; realistic, reasonable, rational, logical, reliable, trustworthy.
The best lessons that can be learned come from within the home.
If we can be real, loving, genuine and caring in our homes, even when we get it wrong, just think how effective we can be for others in our world.
Featured in the photo above are two special teddy bears in our home.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Ever been spiritually abused by this one?

There are times in all our lives when we’re sound one moment, skittish the next. Some of us are like that by nature or personality. Some people cannot help it. And it certainly doesn’t make them any less spiritually mature. Think of people who are ‘thinkers’ rather than ‘feelers’. Are they more spiritually mature because they’re seemingly more emotionally stable?
When someone opens their Bible up to James chapter 1, and points to the sixth, seventh and eighth verses, and they look at you like “there is it, right there, see it?” you are forgiven for being either confused, upset, angry or despondent.
A mildly angry response would actually be appropriate. James in this verse is talking about the specific issue of doubting within the specific matter of prayer. Doubting of its own is permissible, one only needs to look at the majority of the Bible to see countless occasions where biblical figures more famed for their faith than you or I battling. Doubting, paradoxically, is a sign of faith. The sad thing with this verse is people who monster it to abuse others only look at the effect and impute it as the cause. Just because we may be double-minded or unstable occasionally doesn’t mean God doesn’t want good things for us. God knows we need encouragement, not our noses rubbed in our failures.
But this is just one ‘for instance’. So many Bible verses are used as cannon fodder for those who weaponise what was meant to be used for lifting others up.
There are times in my life where I’m tossed about on the waves, “blown and tossed by the wind.” The last thing I need at these times is a stern rebuke. What I needed was someone to sit, listen, affirm and encourage. Possibly a ten-minute chat. Sometimes that’s all it took for me to right myself. Yet, for many people and in many situations, the problems of life are far more complex than that.
When we only see the end results of someone’s waywardness, and we jump to the conclusion that they’re spiritually immature or lacking in some other way or “they’ll never make it,” we miss the opportunity to provide the care that the opportunity truly demands of us. We miss the opportunity to learn what they’re really up against. Some of the most important lessons I’ve ever learned came when God wanted to correct my ignorance assumptions. These have been some of my biggest A-HA moments. The humble person sees beyond judgement and looks for the real reasons people behave as they do.
It is spiritual abuse to reel out James 1:6-8 in response to someone being undependable who is genuinely grieving, depressed, anxious, or ailing for any reason.
Now, that is not to say those of us who have times of being unreliable or undependable want things to remain as they are. Most of us want better. The point of this form of spiritual abuse is it never leads to growth. It’s never the right way to lead someone in the faith. We can do much better coming from a standpoint of understanding. Then, we may find the Holy Spirit leads us in knowing what help they find is useful.
The maddening thing about being up and down emotionally is it’s never simple to emend, whether we’re in the moment or reflecting upon it later. The spirit of control that demands that complex issues be made simple never helps and can only hinder.
Let’s get one thing straight; spiritual abuse, or any abuse for that matter, doesn’t have to happen regularly or even more than once. Interacting with fellow humans is an honour and a privilege, and how they feel about our interacting with them is paramount. When we consider we all have the capacity to abuse people, God can give us the spiritual awareness to care in such a way that we don’t.

Photo by _Mxsh_ on Unsplash