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

Thursday, February 28, 2019

The Push-Pull of Suffering to be Overcome

Complexity is the order of every moment of those stuck in the suffering of trauma — an existential state for the one confused and frequently overwhelmed by what life has dealt them.
“What cannot be talked about
can also NOT be put to rest,
the wounds continue to fester
from generation to generation.”
— Diane Langberg, PhD
Langberg mentions above is what she often talks about, regarding trauma in terms of its push-pull. This push-pull is the very manifestation of dissonance and discomfort and dysfunction at every turn. We may specify it as trauma or generalise it as suffering. The same facts pertain.
The reality is this: the things we need to talk about often hold us captive. Talk about them and we rip the scab off, and the fear is we doubt we’ll be able to control the bleeding. Or, hold it in a little longer, pretend the sore’s not there, but we know we lose a part of ourselves in such denial. It tends to toxify.
What’s to be done? One day we won’t be alive anymore. That day is sooner than any of us realise. And there will be those loved ones — our children and grandchildren and great grandchildren — who will survive us.
What happened to any of us who bear the scars of life, of trauma, of suffering, has the opportunity of stopping with us. We can resolve to put an end to whatever generational trauma we bear. This doesn’t mean it won’t flare up in a fresh iteration later. It also doesn’t mean we can prevent another different trauma from sucking life out of our descendants.
But we can do something in our generation. Courage of inner conflict is our opportunity. Yet with courage is also pain. As we bring to the surface those things that have held us impotent for so long, we enter a world of pain for the truths we utter, for the guilt and shame we face (which is not ‘us’), for the people we contend with in many cases who may resist our efforts.
While we’re alive, for such minutes and moments as these, now is the time to overcome the push-pull of suffering, which, in its very nature, is to accept the push-pull for what it is.
We do not want to talk about that which we much talk about.
But we must talk about it or we will continue to deny that which holds the key for life for those who come after us. And there will be more abundant life for us, also, on the other side of courage. In the meantime, we focus on the following:
In choosing joy,
because we wish for peace,
that brings abiding hope,
these facets of virtue become a legacy.
We must begin the process of honest,
courageous wrestling with the push-pull of our suffering,
proving by example how to overcome.
We must find safe spaces to talk
to have hope beyond
generational trauma and suffering.
That takes courage.
Generational trauma and suffering can as much be created in the present generation as it is carried over from past generations. And if we don’t do anything about it, it will mutate in and through the lives of those who go after us.

Photo by Melinda Gimpel on Unsplash

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Making sense of forgiveness in a fallen world

Preparing a message on Jonah chapter 3, wrestling with concepts of justice and forgiveness, I suddenly receive a revelation; clarity in terms of justice within the field of forgiveness.
I’ve marvelled at how easily I’ve been graced with the ability to forgive some things, people and situations, but I’ve also been perplexed at how impossible I’ve found it to forgive other things, people and situations.
This is why I’m committed to peacemaking. I’m enthralled. It wasn’t the ease of forgiving things, by God’s grace, that many people find impossible to forgive that converted me. It was when I was perplexed that I realised that forgiveness is much harder for most people much of the time than I once thought.
You are to be forgiven for struggling
to forgive some people for things
that have happened to you.
There, I said it. And I mean it.
It must be said, for there is too much spiritual abuse going around in churches that compel people to unjustly ‘forgive’ abuse that’s happened to them.
Here’s what I’ve discovered in my journeys of conflict and my wrestling with the concept of forgiveness.
Firstly, I’ve never had a problem forgiving people who have hurt me, when I’ve been part of the problem.
When I’ve forgiven people in these situations, I’ve noticed that God inevitably deals with them in God’s own way and timeframe. Seeing myself as part of the problem has made it easier to forgive. I’ve found there’s wisdom in getting the log out of my own eye. (See Matthew 7:1-5)
I recognise that repentance is important on both sides. Where I have repented, the attitude of forgiveness has ultimately come. But if they never showed any signs of repentance, especially when significant responsibility lies with them, that is when I’ve found it most of a challenge to forgive.
So, there are two factors that combine in the discussion. The other party has significant responsibility — not saying all of the responsibility — and they completely deny their responsibility.
The first situation of having sole responsibility is what happens in cases of abuse, which would be bad enough. But these reprehensible situations are made interminably worse when the second situation also occurs; when abuse is not acknowledged. This is the dynamic when abuse is covered up. And it’s being reported a lot in this #MeToo #ChurchToo day. This combination situation occurs because the abuser won’t own their responsibility, hence the incident is covered up.
I think Christians have no problems forgiving anyone where they see conviction in the other person or party that leads to their repentance and a willing restitution that leads to relational restoration. But it happens far too infrequently. And so many Christian relationships are burned in the process. Entire relationships are torched because one party doesn’t budge an inch, which polarises the other party in the process, and generally over one issue, albeit a significant one.
In studying Jonah chapter 3, my attention is arrested when ungodly people — the people of Nineveh — repent at the warning of a coming destruction.
In other words, their hearts are convicted. They repent in sackcloth and fasting. And God does not destroy them. In fact, God ultimately uses this people (the Assyrians) to carry the people of God away to exile two decades later.
Who repented? It wasn’t the people of God, who should have known better.
It was those who would hear,
those who would fear,
those who would draw near.
These are the people we can most easily forgive. Those who have the willingness to hear us. Those who have something to fear — the loss of relationship with us and God.[1] These are those who would draw near to God in humility endeavouring to “love one another” as Jesus’ final command (John 13:33-35) to believers’ attests.
Those who do not hear God’s Spirit calling them to own their responsibility, and who do not fear losing their relationship with us and hurting their relationship with God, are those who do not draw near to God in humility endeavouring to “love one another” as Jesus’ final command (John 13:33-35) to believers’ attests.
Wherever people refuse to reconcile, we must seek to understand or differentiate between them feeling unsafe on the one hand and feeling right in their own mind on the other. There is mediation for both these situations, and conflict coaching that precedes it.
Forgiveness is a gift we are wise to offer. But then it depends entirely on the person we wish to give it to holding their hands out to receive it.
Forgiveness is given when the person being forgiven owns their wrong and seeks to receive the forgiveness for the gift it is.

[1] Recall that Jesus said in Matthew 5:23-24, in the context of anger that causes assault and even murder, “… if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

Photo by Melody Jacob on Unsplash

Saturday, February 23, 2019

The clearest sign of mental health

Am I mentally ill, could be the question? Every healthy person learns to ask such a question, as is the paradox that is health and ill-health.
Now, let’s be crystal clear about what this paradox is about. Let me use myself as an example. The times I have been most unhealthy mentally, emotionally, spiritually, I have lacked something very important — something critical for health. I lacked the capacity to see that I wasn’t healthy, and perhaps others knew it. I’m sure they did. I may have suspected something was wrong, but I would not at that time be able to pinpoint it. Eventually I might, and when I did, I would be on the cusp of recovery.
What is the clearest sign of mental health?
It’s like being in mental health inpatient facility. The main indicator psychiatrists are looking for. Can the person perceive reality? Are they delusional? Is there grandeur? Of course, the purpose for admitting people to these hospitals is to give them time and treatment to come back to reality — to receive insight.
It’s a scary individual that does not have insight. Yet, the narcissist is one who seems fine — until you get close to them — but has a major lack of insight. They cannot see a single fault within themselves. And they may only ultimately agree they have something to change when they see there is some advantage coming to them for appearing humble.
Now, this is dangerous; to see yourself as unequivocally superior to others is bad for everyone. You cannot be corrected when you need to be, and others are not acknowledged for the goodness and attributes they have.
The person who has insight, however, sees the faults inside themselves, and they have copious humility to be able to see the wrong, the error, the mistakes they make; that we all make from time to time. They’re not fearful of exposure because they see what is wrong and they see that it is straightforward to attend to it and fix it.
There’s the paradox in all its glory: the one who thinks they’re perfect is unimaginably dangerously imperfect, because they cannot see their fault, yet the one who sees their imperfections might as well be perfect, for human intents and purposes.
If you want to know if you’re healthy, do you have the capacity for honesty?
Can you see what you need to be able to see? Not just for yourself, but for others, too.
Now, we can see that there are maladies of anxiety and depression that express themselves in many ways, but do not manifest in a lack of honesty. Comparatively, mental health is less of an issue, even if there is a lot of pain the person must wrestle with. This is not to say that their mental ill-health is any less important. Indeed, many times people can suffer mental ill-health because someone close to them has had narcissistic impact on them.
People who suffer depression and anxiety can often still have good relationships. Even with comparative mental ill-health they may often operate in such a way that others are benefactors relationally. They may often find ways of loving well despite what they suffer, which is an incredibly inspiring reality.
We see here that good mental health is not just about the struggles we have living our lives; it’s also how we treat other people. A mental health that impacts negatively on other people is of grave concern, because of how people can be damaged. Of course, there is, on the other hand, also the matter of how suicide damages those left behind. That can never be understated.
Or, perhaps we can see it this way: the person who may have no pain but has troubled relationships, and indeed may appear to be happy, even powerful, may be more mentally ill than the person who endures much pain but who serves and loves others to the end of good relationships.
The person who consistently puts others first has better mental health ultimately than the person who has no interest in or capacity for others.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Is suffering ever optional?

Gee, in some moments where the light-bulb has flickered to life, and I’ve been given a great thought to write about, occasionally I’ve been dead wrong. Cringe.
I’m thankful for those who have graciously corrected my thinking — not that I haven’t experienced significant remorse for the well-intentioned, albeit misguided aphorism I expounded. And I must treat others who make the same errors as I do with the grace I’ve often been accorded.
An idea was posited as this: pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional. It was meant in a specific context which was later clarified. All good.
But it does raise the idea, going off into a pleasant and opportunistic tangent, that there are people who would propagate the idea that suffering is optional.
To these, I write this:
I, and many I know who may read this,
know of a suffering that can never be thought of as optional.
In so many ways, we need to have been there — in an inescapable grief, an irresolvable depression, or in a tsunami-like panic attack, or the like — to know how incomprehensible the moment is. To have lived such a moment or a season punctuated by such moments, or heaven forbid, a life full with such moments teaches us something.
Now, what I’m about to say needs to be prefaced in the prayer of an open mind.
Do we ever contemplate that within our suffering is a gift? — but calling suffering a gift is never to be confused for it being a good thing. Of course, it is not. Not all gifts are good things in the way we as humans would see them. But gifts are given to us.
Is there any good thing that can come from such a heinous gift as suffering? Any blessing? We’re not blessed to suffer, but occasionally others are blessed because we have suffered or do suffer.
Now, why is this? What’s the rationale?
Empathy. Compassion. Understanding. Kindness. Gentleness. Patience. These attributes (and more) of having suffered as a human being cannot generally be learned any other way than through a suffering we cannot control; that which brings us metaphorically to our knees is good for others.
It’s like the boy who was frustrated by the truancy of a dear class friend, but because he himself had suffered, he understood there was more to the other boy’s truancy than he could fully understand. He just resolved to accept his friend, warts ‘n’ all. Why? Because he, too, had warts. His suffering had taught him he couldn’t control everything. He had learned the precious art of surrender — itself a gift.
In suffering in such a way as to know there is no way out of it, we’re coached in the ways of life and of God — that much of life that we previously had no idea about, utterly no concept for, is indeterminate. This is the reality for very many people over the face of our globe. Think of those who have been tortured, persecuted, orphaned, widowed, traumatised, abandoned, etc.
Suffering opens our eyes to a suffering world,
which itself is a gift of godly insight.
Is this some kind of acceptance or defeatist thinking, you might be asking? Surely God can provide the miracle to alleviate our suffering. The trouble with this thinking is it distracts us from what God might teach us in the suffering we cannot control — and that is hope!
When we suffer and we have no way of controlling it, what we need is for the suffering to mean something. But when we’re focused only on getting through it or past it, we miss what we might otherwise learn.
God is teaching us something not for ourselves; it’s something for others that our Lord wishes to give us, as we learn to pay our lives forward. Remember the motion picture, Pay It Forward (made in 2000)? How else are we to know just how to ‘love our neighbour as ourselves’?
We must empathise with their struggle
if we are to love them as we need to be loved.
Saying or thinking or believing that someone who’s suffering has control over what they’re suffering is not first standing in their shoes in order to first understand why it is they’re suffering so badly. We must see it through their eyes. That’s first base!
Sure, there are many times and situations where suffering may be alleviated. We must believe this otherwise our hope is blindsided and our purpose to live evaporates.
But we must first understand that suffering is an overwhelming truth embodied in an individual who would leave their suffering in a heartbeat. But they cannot. At some stage they might or will. But not right now. They’re not choosing to suffer.
In suffering, we lament the loss of a past that is no longer ours and cannot yet grasp a future we hope for.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

When you’re beyond discouraged

There are times when I give up; when I’m overwhelmed mentally, emotionally and spiritually. These are times when I’m often physically depleted, time poor, and there is a plethora of frustration.
But frustration is merely a symptom. Exhaustion is more the cause. And discouragement is the effect. It takes me to the absolute end of myself. It’s a scary place to be.
When I’m beyond discouraged, and that means I’m actually depressed, even if it’s the accumulation of one day’s series of hindrances, I’ve found I must remind myself that, “This, too, shall pass.”
Inevitably, what occurs is there’s 24-hours of spiritual attack associated with life circumstances I cannot dissociate from, and then what arrives is a sweet reprieve — where God’s mercies are indeed very new of the morning! (See Lamentations 3:22-24)
But when I’m discouraged, I’m unbearable to live with. Any energy I do have I divert into irrationalities of the diabolical. Sure, I’m a feeler, but when I’m in a good frame of mind, I relate more as a thinker. But overall, I’m a feeler. I feel my own emotions heavily and I tend to feel others the same way, perhaps a little less so.
When we’re beyond discouragement, we must recognise that hope is essential.
To feel at peace again, to exemplify joy, there must be hope. We turn from the discouraging circumstances through our imagination to a reality on the horizon. It must be borrowed.
As we turn in, getting a rest from the exhausting situation we find ourselves in, we face with honesty how we truly feel. Sometimes we need to sob. We may need to howl. But we wail before God. We pray in brutal honesty, believing that whatever words come from our mouth are our therapy before the Lord who already knows.
In praying with tears, with lament so unbearable we cannot think, we acknowledge before the Lord who already knows what only the Lord may teach us.
It is a beautiful prayer. Because it is honest. Contrition is the mode of this kind of prayer, even if we were angry. And the psalms remind us how important imprecatory prayers are, too. That is, would you believe, to invoke or call down a curse! Oh, yes, these are biblical — many from David! Good enough for David… good enough for you and I.
We must recognise the importance in honesty, in declaration, in contending — for the truth that the Lord already knows must be faced by ourselves. We must own how we truly feel.
When we’re discouraged, we need to recognise we’re in fine company.
Of course, we feel most alone when we’re most discouraged. The truth is we don’t know just how many people around us are feeling the same way. The trouble is, in this day as much as ever, we tend to value denial more than honesty. When we feel alone in our discouragement, we tend not to see others in their discouragement.
God loves it when we face the truth in the counsel of friends, for even in our discouragement we are an encouragement to others who are discouraged — if we have the courage to be real.
When we’re beyond discouraged, we’re gently being led to release our grip on what we cannot control.
Letting go can seem impossible, but it is what we need to do.
Most importantly, we need to remember we’re not alone.

Photo by sydney Rae on Unsplash

Saturday, February 16, 2019

The humanity due every human being

I learned this in prison. As a visitor I must clarify. Through two very pleasant interactions. One with someone I was visiting; the other on the way out with an indigenous man, an elder, visiting his son.
Both men I had interacted with on this particular morning had a keen understanding of massive injustice in life, but both men, one in his mid-30s and the other in his late-50s had been seasoned by a grace that comes only through experience. Both their lives had been punctuated with abusive oppressions in their developmental years. One of the men is obviously still on his journey toward redemption, while the other is a custodian in his community in leading his kin toward the promised land of peace in this life.
What impressed me most about both men was how reasonable and affable they were toward me, the kind of person who might remind them of those who abused them. Yet I found honesty in one and humour in the other, a sweet reasonableness in both that said to me I was accepted.
I try not to take acceptance for granted with anyone.
In both conversations, short accounts of abuse suffered were shared.
Sharing isn’t always easy to do. For beginners, many people find that when they share, they get advice, and when people finally pluck up the courage to share, the thing they need least is advice. Now, in the advice we’re tempted to give we may feel justified, but what trumps the advice is the rapport being built. (And from that rapport there arrives a time where advice becomes relevant; usually when its sought.)
As these accounts of abuse where shared, I considered them through present-day eyes. They were abhorrent. Yet, what is saddest perhaps is, the accounts shared were representative of what goes on in our world all the time; and they were certainly thought ‘less of’ way back when.
To think that Australian aboriginals were once considered part of national flora-and-fauna. Less than human! And to think that the makeup of family might include individuals who would physically and verbally abuse children, and worse, that other family members would deny it! And still, there is a generational trauma involved in both accounts of the abuses shared.
And yet what rose up in both men was hope. For something different. For justice to arrive. That they might be propagators of such justice in how they loved others around them. That they might play their small or large part in arresting the generational flow of trauma through their ascendants.
Humanity is deserved of every human being.
We are each made preciously in the image of God. And especially where abuse is suffered, there needs to be stock taken; that generational rage and confusion is to be expected, as are the flow-on effects of drug and other addictions, criminal behaviour and the like, and especially the abuse, as the afflicted can often become the inflictors.
If we treat humans like garbage, very soon they believe they just that, and the effect is mind-blowingly tragic for all concerned, setting up a winter of generational trauma in its wake.
The opportunity before everyone who has ever endured abuse is to do their best as far as it depends on them to break the cycle for those in their influence in this generation.
Finally, I do believe this: each of these men, as examples of the beloved of God, are better than I am, for what they have endured. And I don’t say that out of some stupid sense of false pride; I am in awe of the suffering (abuse) any human being endures that was no fault of their own.
People who have been through so much injustice have so much to teach all of us if only they can be dignified enough to redeem hope for a future they deeply wish for. That future always involves a message of hope for, and redemption of, others.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

What do I do when loss feels like a life sentence?

This is a question I have long pondered. And indeed, I was recently asked this very question. I consider half a dozen losses in my family alone, half of them decades-old, and it isn’t as clear cut as saying loss is like a life sentence.
It can certainly feel that way. It feels that way when we have no hope to compensate for the loss. “A hope deferred makes the heart sick,” Proverbs 13:12a says.
For so many people loss doesn’t involve grief that lingers like a life sentence. But if you ask these people, they would probably say that their loss changed them. Would they have chosen to be changed? Probably not. But, as they rationalise it, it is what it is.
I think about young children who lose a parent or a sibling, or a parent who loses a child, or a spouse who loses their partner. Their lives are unimaginably transformed. They learn to carry a presage of sadness they can cherish.
Nothing of what has happened would they choose. None of it do they wish to accept. There is nothing about the new situation that is enjoyable or even palatable. There is a look in the face of this person. It’s a look of all-too-real, surreal dread. And yet what is possible is something incredibly unbelievable. The look in the person’s face becomes one of tempering. They are softened by calamity. They have no choice. We have no choice.
The grief that crushes a hope we often took for granted — and so many blessed realities that we ought to be thankful for we do take for granted — finds its hope in something utterly unanticipated.
We never like to contemplate this. And it seems so aberrant. To think that somehow our hearts adapt to the new normal, that might feel like a life sentence, but perhaps is the gift of brokenness that completes our journey of life. It is so hard to write these things. They feel uncomfortable to say. They seem to almost betray fairness for the human condition.
From a faith perspective, I like to think that God doesn’t so much bring suffering into our lives, but that he can use it magnificently. I say this because I believe it through brutal experience.
I never truly knew God until I suffered,
not that you must suffer to know God.
Until loss broke in and entered my life through grief,
I had no idea that life could thieve like it did,
and yet, being open to God
because I didn’t know how to live through it,
I found God, and the true compensation that leads to life.
What may feel like a life sentence feels that way for an extended period. We come to think of our lives as taking an eternity, when we have absolutely no grasp over the endlessness, or infinite constancy, of eternity.
Grief and loss cost us a year or two or ten or twenty or forty. It can take that long to adjust. But through faith we can find meaning, because the grief we experience from loss invites us into an astonishing worldview.
Out of the portent of grief, because of the loss that cauterised our connection with our past, we are invited into only two options for how life is now to be perceived.
The first option is to see it as a life sentence that has no hope. This becomes the default. And seemingly all people must overcome this option by preferring the second option.
The second option is to look up and out and beyond everything we have ever known, and not so much to throw out everything we know, but to be open to learning so much more. This second option necessitates a departure from the thinking of the first option. This second option is happily prepared to start over knowing and insisting on nothing.
That’s a journey!
At one and the same time we must face
the reality of our grief and look beyond it.
I’m not sure if we can do that without God. And faith in our Lord was made for experiences of loss that yield us to grief.
The only way to get past this life sentence thinking is to think curiously into the wonder that we yet do not know what we soon may know. And that soon enough we will know why these things have happened and why we feel the way we feel, and that even if we never find the meaning we are after, that we learn strength, compassion, forbearance, and humility from facing and accepting a mystery.
These things do happen. They grow us up.

Photo by frank mckenna on Unsplash

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

His strength emerges in being safely vulnerable

Either a bear hug or a firm handshake: two common responses I get from men after a deep chat. Both are perfectly fine by me. Both communicate sincerity of spirit, man-to-man, an appreciation that we are equals before God, and that we bear a common love for one another.
I have had plenty of encounters with men recently involving raw and honest discussions about fear and sadness and the anger that overrules us as men. And every interaction is inspiring as we see honesty rise.
It’s common for humanity to want some sense of control, and it’s my experience that control is hardwired into many of us men, and we really have no idea why. The first thing I’ve discovered about myself is the importance of becoming aware of just how important control is. I hate being out of control, and if there is anything worse than feeling confused within myself, it’s when family (who have no idea what my mind is battling with) brings additional demands. It is not their fault. It never is. Yet they can occasionally bear the brunt of my being overwhelmed. Family does that in all our lives, yet we’ve been so conditioned to feel guilty and ashamed when we get it wrong.
I know so many men who
experience these same things
and feel quite the same way.
I’m thankful that I’m not alone.
The only way to deal with the guilt and shame that comes from learned behaviour is to talk about it and to dethrone the guilt and shame; to put Jesus back on the throne, because, quite frankly, he doesn’t abide in the guilt and shame — only the enemy of God does that!
I encourage men to begin a relationship with their anger, their fear, their sadness, because it cannot hurt them and can only help them and their important others. This is to acknowledge that in life we’re often overwhelmed, and to underplay that, or to make people feel guilty for ‘not being enough’, is in itself an abuse.
Jesus dealt with guilt and shame at the cross,
for all eternity, for all our lives, for every situation.
I have seen so many men begin the journey to be freed of the bondage of their guilt and shame, even to the point where they can come close to and not fear their fear, acknowledge and be sad about their sadness, and begin to see all these so-called wrong things as the very fuel for their own spiritual renovation. It is the work that God desires to do in every single one of us.
In tackling pornography with very small groups of men, I have seen men emerge as better equipped human beings for everyone within their sphere of influence, not least themselves as peace, hope, and joy abide. I have seen shame lift off their shoulders, a lightness in to their faces, and a safe boldness characterise their step. Honesty empowers.
Incredible strength emerges,
a power for healing,
when deep shame
is spoken forth in a safe forum.
I prefer to work with men, because I feel better equipped. Through the breakup of my first marriage, and in the acknowledgement of my failures as a husband first time around, God has given me much more of an appreciation that life is a journey designed to be divinely navigated; that it is only when I concede my weakness that I can draw on God’s strength; that the Lord has so much to show us, and that we need that help, daily.
So many men have learned to bottle up their sadness, their fear, their shame and guilt. So many women have, too. Men are not unique in this way, but men are much more reticent to give voice to their weakness, never realising most of the time that only the strong person can admit weakness.
We have to debunk the lie: tough men hide their feelings. Hiding what we feel will only make us weak in the worst of ways. Strength comes from being honest about what we’re facing.
Men need a forum where they can share without judgement or advice, unless they are seeking advice.
I have often thought that we need listening services in our communities, which would be places people could go, and in this case men, and simply be heard. In being listened to, they might simply experience the affirmation of nods and gestures and smiles and other body language that validates their experience. Nothing else is required. At least initially.
Much of the time people need to be heard and affirmed that they are not crazy, irrational, stupid, and the like. We all see through unique lenses. And our experience of the world, man-for-man, is equally valid.
It can only be an honour to hear another person voice their own experience and, as we listen, to try and understand what life has been like for them. As we listen like this, God ministers to us too! This kind of ministry is always a two-way street.
Imagine if someone
who was deeply troubled knew
they are an agent of God’s work
even within their distress!
Men need to be heard and they need to be understood, and most of all men need to be encouraged to be honest, to share their burden, and allow their own experience to inform them that these very things are the keys to mental and emotional recovery and restoration.
Right at the end I want to state something really important: there is the appropriate place for momentary guilt and shame (godly sorrow) in response to our wrongdoing, but it’s only intended to bring us to the point of remorse for what we’ve done, and to motivate the righting of those wrongs. This is restorative justice. And out of this comes peace for all.
Photo by Warren Wong on Unsplash

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Lego frustrations among other family realities

There is a plasticky sound that has become all too familiar. What follows is another familiar sound: the groans, the shrieks, the words of negativity, the ‘busting’, the crying. It’s all so inevitable.
His Sunday School teacher confided to us that he had prayed, “God, please help hold my Lego creations together.” It’s so important to him.
He sees himself as an engineer building all sorts of vehicles, with all sorts of functions. It literally is a wonderland of creation, albeit with customary outbreaks of annoyance.
As a parent I can’t help but go down to the bedroom and attempt to help, usually with limited success. He either doesn’t want my help, my kind of help, or the idea that he might need help. Sometimes just occasionally, however, through the careful (and prayerful) selection of words and tone, I am able to help. In his bedroom I am always praying! “God, help him control himself when the pieces crumble off his ‘creation’.”
As a father of three daughters, all adults now, Lego wasn’t a thing, and their frustrations came from… do you know, I cannot even remember! I know my precious girls had their frustrations, but they tended to slip straight into sadness, bypassing the anger. And it probably wasn’t things but people who caused their chagrin.
As you read this, you may resonate. You may have or know of a precious five or six-year-old who, like any of us, needs to master his (or her) world.
Oh… but just now, success! “Dad, close your eyes and come with me!” I’m led by the hand. A moment of triumph — the finished creation out on a test drive… and now for the photos! (see one above)
At the end of the day, it’s life. There’s nothing you or I can do as parents or caregivers other than to ‘pick up the pieces’ with patience and grace as much as we can.
Of course, there are times, and have been times, as parents when our cup is already overflowing with stress, tasks and responsibilities, and too many things on the mind to balance. Their anger provokes ours! Yes, we are human. Perhaps the biggest and most important part of parenting is not damaging them too much in these tenuous seconds.
I know that doesn’t sound too good. But all things considered, love is as much a safe environment where grace prevails as it is anything else.
Now for some more Lego creation interest showing!

Acceptance, rejection and other things we don’t talk about

I’m sensitive. Depending on who you are, and whether you see sensitivity as virtuous or not, that’s either a good thing or a thing to be criticised. And this is okay, for I must still be responsible for how I steward my sensitivity. I can use it to discern and to care just as much as I can use it against the forces for good in being hurt and projecting it. Both possibilities are potent.
There are tangible and unknown reasons why we feel the sting of rejection. Sometimes there’s a known cause — we can pin it down to some actual reason. At other times, we have no idea. We may not talk about these things, because, quite frankly, they make us vulnerable to more experiences of rejection. There’s no more debilitating force than feeling abandoned.
Acceptance, as a state of mind, is a very powerful force for confidence, empowerment, hope, and the agency that sees us engage our will to act.
But these kinds of conditions in life are not steady and reliable — they come and go and often appear elusive. And the fact that we cannot control these things can be terrifying.
We don’t talk about pornography, except that most of us here might agree how destructive it is. We don’t use the word masturbation, and like the other secrets that only we and God know about, the very matters that could free us hold us. There is so much need for ministry and healing in this area, but there is even more shame that holds us bound to our sin. If only we talked about it and trusted God and those others we can trust, we could find ways of breaking past the bondage. With certainty.
Grief is another thing we don’t readily talk about. It’s a taboo subject. Many people know that many people need to hear important messages about it, but the sharing of real and raw experiences can polarise us. Sometimes there’s an outpouring of sympathy, but there’s usually silence. People learn not to raise the matter.
Anxiety and depression, much like grief, are also avoided, as much because of the fear these conditions breed. As if they might be contagions. Many people would rather smear a veneer of happiness over themselves as they embark upon their day. To maintain mental health control is like a minimum living standard. We want at least that much for ourselves and those we care about.
Death is something that has an allure all its own. We’re all screaming along the course of history toward that fateful day, never imagining we could wring more out of life if only we viewed our lives more in the context of our deaths. Death is a teacher. But many do not get over the fear of it. They may feel immobilised if the subject is raised.
We don’t talk about suffering, but many do talk about the victory won having suffered ‘well’. Like everything else, Christians especially don’t like to meander in the liminal space of extreme discomfort. But the therapy is in the talking. And if we avoid talking it’s for our own comfort, when there are many who need comfort who could do with the comfort that talking about it would avail to them.
We fill our brains with all sorts of nonsense, even if some of it is good. We all have our biases and prejudices, pet peeves and hobby horses. We live in a world more and more able to placate our own voice to feed our biases. And division in society is pregnant, and it ultimately gives birth to war. But we don’t talk about these things because we’re so inebriated in our own versions of some kind of final solution. Life is rarely as simple as we imagine, even in plain dimensions.
Do we ever step back and ask ourselves what our regrets later in life will be?
What conversations could we be having that may bring freedom and simply involve a little courage?
Have we said these things lately: I love you. I trust you. Are you okay… really? You can trust me not to judge you. Tell me more about that. Would it be okay for me to just sit with you? Do you fear I might feel uncomfortable? What you say doesn’t change my view of you. I admire your courage!
All these things communicate that we accept the person before us unconditionally. It’s the greatest gift any human being can give or receive. Such is the love of God.