What It's About

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

Monday, April 30, 2018

Feeling the loss of a loved one before they go

Having arrived home from a wedding to relieve my parents who were caring for our son, a tragedy almost unfolded as they were leaving.
Escorting them to the car, my father was there one moment, gone the next. On the side of the car where my mother was, I heard her cry out to him as he lay there in the rose garden having fallen backwards where he struck his head and back against the fence and letterbox, landing on a spiky rose plant. I dashed over to him and asked him if he was okay, somehow not wanting to move him in case there was spinal damage. Establishing he wasn’t having a heart attack, and that there were no broken bones, I lifted him awkwardly from the wedge of space he was in and got him back onto his feet. He jumped straight into the car, and Mum and I urged him to come back inside so we could make a proper assessment of his injuries — not least also so he could help him regain his composure. My wife and I got him seated inside, patched him up (abrasions, cuts and scratches), and soon, with sore back, they were on their way.
Moments like this, when something unforeseen happens, where what we always take for granted seems imminently threatened, there isn’t the time for panic to set in, it’s just pure shock.
Then I had another one of these moments as they drove down the road. As I walked inside I felt moved in my spirit. The plans I had to write were subsumed by the urge to do something else. I wanted to spend time with my father. I worried about them getting home safely — an hour away late at night. I decided to watch a home DVD of family twenty-five years ago that my father has filmed and lovingly curated — one scene, Dad interacting with my eldest daughter who wasn’t even a year old.
As I watched the video, I scarcely recalled those times, though there they were — memories in celluloid. Times when I was a much younger man, only just a father, my father only just becoming a grandfather. Even though there must have been difficulties back then, it seems like such an innocent and hopeful time. We were all so much younger. I look at my father move about as a man younger than I am presently. Part of me is sad. But part of me is also enriched and enveloped in the memories. Another part of me recognises how different my life is nowadays, and I’m unsure how to feel about that. And part of me wanted to share by sending clips of this video to family members; so I did.
What made me do this? The horrible thought that I might have been losing my father; the realisation that he won’t be around forever; the desire I have to be honest about my emotions; the want deep within me for connection with my parents while they’re alive.
When we almost lose a family member we’re given reason for instant gratitude that, in the reprieve, they live on. But there is a sadness borrowed from the future — the inevitable will no doubt all-too-soon arrive. This helps us and motivates us to make the most of our time, now.
Thoughts of loss put us into the realm of reality,
for loss is the inevitable result of loving the living.
The title of the article also suggests this might be about ambiguous loss — the kind that family members suffer when their kin are struck with dementia, for just one instance. My heart goes out to anyone who must suffer the loss of their mother or father or someone else dear much earlier than their physical death. And, of course, there are many other varieties of ambiguous grief that I haven’t written about here. To all affected, I am sad for your pain.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Spiritual health within mental illness

Photo by Haythem Gataa on Unsplash
More and more in my spiritual walk I’ve come across spiritual leviathans who battle daily a mental nemesis. These people, in many cases, have come to accept, as Paul did, they have a thorn in the side. That is a spiritual miracle, right there.
We don’t know what Paul’s ‘thorn in the flesh’ was. But to know that he suffered, and that God would not relieve him of it, is such a comfort to us who have our own thorns. Indeed, it ought to encourage any honest human being, for we’re all broken — if we’re honest.
It has captivated me what I have learned and witnessed and experienced from the spiritually mature whose thorn is mental illness. They may even read these words and think, ‘No, surely not I.’
But I like to think in terms
of what God must be thinking.
Imagine how spiritually tough one needs to be to get out of bed in the morning when all one wants to do is die asleep.
Comprehend the difficulty for the person who is forever simply trying to survive in the normal (whatever that is).
Grasp the history of a person who has endured a cacophony of abuse from the very dawn of their vulnerable life to this day, and yet they called out to Jesus and He became their Lord!
Envisage the constant drone of exhaustion sapping a person who is also driven, somehow, by the complement of searching out joy.
It is not for us to gush about Billy Graham nor Pope Francis nor Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr. We ought to be dizzy with inspiration for the account of the average Joe or Joanne who endures their 24/7 existence when plagued by mental enslavement. God is indeed close to these. This surely helps explain their piqued spiritual acuity — although, again, these very people would deny the rigor in their deportment.
We need to reframe what spiritual health even means. It is probably not what you or I automatically think it is. It’s more basic than that. Its centre has to be about the gospel.
The saved are the broken who see the truth and accept
that living broken is an acceptable exchange
to receive the peace with God.
What is it then? It’s certainly not knowledge, well not knowledge alone. It has to be about wisdom, even if mental health prevents consistent sound behaviour. It’s certainly about understanding. Knowledge and understanding, together, and no wonder these kinds of people with these kinds of struggles have the potential to make excellent shepherd ministers (Jeremiah 3:15). I trust a teacher who has strode the road, for a teacher who knows yet hasn’t lived the journey is poorer for it.
God knows what each person is up against.
And for anyone to be sanctified through what makes others crazy is a miracle of grace for the humility of such a person to lose their life to save it — to let go of the wrestle, and to accept God at His Word of eternal forgiveness.
Whoever is forgiven much, who agrees to receive that forgiveness, loves much (Luke 7:47).

Whoever suffers much, who agrees to receive help, is also blessed with God’s sanctification much.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The Pastoral Opportunity

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

As God works out His purposes in people’s lives, as suffering,
as pastor, work comfort into their lives through His grace.
As suffering works into people’s lives,
work out of His grace in their presence
so they may see Him,
and respond in faith.
What do I mean by this?
As the circumstances of life conspire against us, we all need the ministry of God to know He is threefold, concerned and real and able. God cares. God’s alive. God can help and heal and grow us through trial. He and His role, therefore, is the purpose of our lives to which we’re called to.
Only as we’re invited in, and we do enter their struggle, do they experience the outworking of His grace into their own lives. In struggle, they’re both most needy and teachable. Their hearts are piqued and they’re responsive, more than ever, but importantly only then in some persons, whom the Spirit has stirred.
The pastoral opportunity is dormant until the need arises, which is not saying that pastoral work doesn’t occur in the meantime. Some of the best work occurs before the crisis in trusting God sufficiently, that loving a person as He loves them is always a privilege; the calling.
The point of the pastoral opportunity is the work that goes in beforehand. People may only run to us for support because we’ve taken the time to care about them beforehand.
People allow us to care for them
when they know we care about them.
Pastoral work is patience, in that it trusts that the opportunity will come. That the need will arise.
And even if it doesn’t come, that it is perfectly acceptable to be on ‘light’ terms with anyone and everyone. We’re here for the Lord, and not to have our own needs of intimacy met.
Indeed, light terms is blessedness for which to be grateful, for we have not yet been called into the immediacy of need which we’re most needy of God’s grace for, which is, of itself, its own form of crisis.
It is good to be there when we’re needed, and great to be there when we’re not.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Wait and let God avenge for you like only God can

Photo by Gianandrea Villa on Unsplash

Forgiveness is the directive of the Lord, even as we receive the Lord’s forgiveness. But there is a reckoning to be had for all unrepentant perpetrators. As all deserve mercy if one receives mercy, such mercy is only available to those who do justice.
If we do wrong, we recompense the proper reparation. If we’re wronged it is good that the other person pays; good for them that they get in before God gets to them, and good for us that they esteemed us and the relationship.
Injustice requires payment,
but the balance of justice
is God’s to determine.
As Romans 12:19 suggests, we must wait for God to avenge the crime against us. We can never properly take the law into our own hands. Sure, we may still be angry, but we can turn that energy into a mercy that encourages the perpetrator’s reflection. And where we have hurt them, we must repair the situation before we even worship God (Matthew 5:23-24).
God will avenge the unapologetic person, and He will do so in a strong way, even so much as we would pity them, which finalises our account of forgiveness.
It just takes time. It can take a decade or two in some situations. What is not reconciled here on earth will instantly be corrected the other side.
It takes time and we must be patient. Who are we to judge, even if we do struggle not to? We must trust the plan God has already instituted before the incident occurred. God knows what He’s doing.
Wait for God’s justice to catch up with others who are doing the wrong thing. Do the right thing and His plan for you will certainly succeed.
As we wait we bravely do God’s bidding, even in the face of those who hurt us. As far as it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18). Love everyone.

Count it all Loss… and all is Gain

Photo by Vincent Chin on Unsplash

Hundreds of wet pages, glued together by moisture, reflections from ten years ago. Ruined. Unsalvageable. Along with other precious items. Storm-damaged.
So many documents that we have no way of restoring. Like the precious jewellery items my wife had stolen three years ago — not worth much in financial terms, but so beloved.
The diary pages that we were tempted to throw out are my record of a time when life was arduous. To reflect over those times is a gift of knowing God’s faithfulness that got us all through that difficult time as a family. (Thankfully we invested a few hours separating the leaves one-by-one.)
This event reminds me of the times when people have suffered total loss, not just to potentially lose a few years of journal entries. And even as we reconciled what had occurred, my wife losing several treasured keepsakes too, we were given cause, even in our loss, of the significant things we still had.
It reminded us also of those famous words of the apostle Paul in Philippians 3:8 —
“I consider everything a loss
because of the surpassing worth
of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” 
There were tears shed today, not my own, but my wife’s, as she has held these possessions for, in some cases, thirty years and more. For me, there was a sense of disbelief as I recalled just how much time I spent journalling, and how many family reminiscences there are in them. It is a genuine family record of those times. One sweet thing, however, was the service my five-year-old son gave to separating the leaves of paper.

We never grieve insignificant losses. Loss, in what it is, involves the greatest of sacrifices; of having to let go that which we would never freely let go of. But when we contrast these losses with Christ, all, even though it is all to us in this life, all, is vanity. That can seem illogical in this day, but that is how good Christ is, in context of the heavenly realms, which is everything of Christ we are, in this life, fundamentally unaware of.
And then there is freedom — all the freedom we enjoy — I, my wife, my son, my daughters, all my family. None of us are presently in slavery, and none of us, for my thinking, ever have been. Then there’s the topic of the ANZACs — the commemoration upcoming, only days away. Many of those who were gunned down even hours into their tour of duty volunteered out of patriotism. We know many have given up their lives so we could be free. How could we spurn that freedom?
Of course, the ultimate expression of freedom-giving is Christ, Himself. He gave Himself up to be scourged, insulted, condemned, and to be hung on a tree. Christ experienced loss that we would gain.
The ultimate expression of faith in Jesus
is to follow Him and die to self
so that others might live.
Not that we would gain in any way. Our loss for another’s gain; their loss for still another’s gain.
This is why we can suffer no loss even though we experience loss. That can sound harsh, even wrong.
Indeed, the purpose of loss is to teach us for the next time; God is to be got in the original loss, deep as deep can go, so that we might know true belief in God to get us through subsequent losses in the way that we know we will soon be compensated. This is why Paul counted all loss as gain.
God is to be got in the first loss, and if not, in the now-loss. Yes, get Him, in your loss, now.
Jesus is a God intimately acquainted with loss.
He knows you in it,
so you may know Him in it.
Why is loss the shortcut to gain? Loss shows us how fleeting life here is. Gain is ours as we sow into the next life. This is paradoxically the practice of sowing authentically into all our key relationships in this life; to make the biggest loving impact we can.
From loss, through pain, to Jesus, to learn the cosmic lesson in loss, to reach for eternity, to look back from there, to do in this life what we can only do now. That’s the purpose of gain in loss.

When we count every gain in this life as loss and all loss in this life as gain we comprehend eternity and we understand God. That, we all appreciate, is a journey. None of us arrives there in this life.

Friday, April 20, 2018

From loving to loathing to (hopefully) loving again

Photo by Xavier Sotomayor on Unsplash

Did Paul and Barnabas ever reconcile? Such a sharp disagreement they had, having ministered together as dear friends for many years previously. It seems Paul would not trust John Mark, yet Barnabas (being a son-of-encouragement) urged Paul to give him a second chance. It created an impasse and neither man was prepared to budge.
It happens.
It’s like the relationship of intimacy enjoyed for a decade and more that fractures overnight.
It happens. Incredibly… tragically… for both, as well as for those connected to both.
Situations like this, we don’t even realise are possible, until they happen to us. We scarcely believe it would be possible that close friends, even blood-kin at times, could fall out over some individual issue. Overnight we’re grieved by something we never saw coming, and by a truth we’re no longer naïve about. We wake the following day greyer but wiser. And yet something dies inside us; faith in the strength of relationships diminishes. None of us are beyond betraying or being betrayed.
We begin to see relationships as the brittle things they are, obviously so conditional on both parties choosing to love the other.
We begin to see that relationships are contingent on the last minute’s love — like the sportsperson, the relationship is only as strong as the form showed in the ‘last game’.
Like all basic lessons of life, the challenge cast forth toward us is to keep our heart open for the friend who’s become something of an enemy; they ought not be seen that way, but it’s hard. An even more important challenge is to not judge friends who seem to have sided with the other person; that’s hard. The principal challenge is to understand that none of our (theirs or ours) right-fighting is righteousness to God. That we’re both wrong. When we want to see we’re right and they’re wrong, this is hardest.
True hearts hold out hope for the miracle of reconciliation. Both must be contrite, however, to desire and achieve it. Both must acknowledge their hurt and own it, and have empathy for the hurt the other feels, taking responsibility for the hurt they each caused. This requires humility and maturity in both.

It is the best experience of life to reconcile a broken relationship with a loved one or best friend. It takes a big heart to believe for it and hold onto that dream. Such a heart is a beautiful perpetual prayer.

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)