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Tuesday, December 31, 2019

From toxic relationships and compromise into spiritual freedom

“Real insight came as I began to realize that this unfreedom was the result of a disordered attachment—a place where I cared more about what other people thought and felt than what God was inviting me to.” — Ruth Haley Barton
We all have the sense that life in this world is not freedom. “Unfreedom” as the above quote puts it. We may well lament the feeling of hopelessness in bearing too much relational responsibility and pain. Staying in this kind of head space for too long sends us into mental illness, emotional instability, and spiritual fragility, because, as Proverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” That tree of life we could call spiritual freedom.
We have two main problems... three if you will!
First, others may steer our lives far more than we wish they would or could. Many of us feel controlled by others and wide open to their manipulations. Anyone who genuinely cares about what others think realises this is probably true for them at least part of the time. But this isn’t the biggest problem we have, because, secondly, we rarely relate with ourselves in truth—our true selves. There is always this existential divide we must cross, and most of the time we don’t know how, and even when we did, we possibly balked at going into that Promised Land to our soul. Of course, thirdly, we could only be led there or could go there through God’s leading.
In imagining better intimacy between God and self, we must know, we cannot please God and people at the same time. This is nothing about being an antagonist.
God knows we love people, but it must concern God that we love [pleasing] people more than we love God. God knows we need to love God first if we’re to love people adequately and appropriately. The trouble is we fear rejection, conflict and reprisal more than we fear (respect) God. This leads us to please people rather than to please God by faith. The people who don’t resonate with this perhaps please themselves rather than others before they please God. I guess I’m saying that pleasing God is not natural for us, even when we love God.
Living a life of pleasing people and bending constantly to the whims of convenience and culture leaves us feeling spiritually punch-drunk. The only way out of this is to back up the truck, put God first, and prepare for the casualties; those who will not take kindly to changes that they perceive impact them negatively—those thinking we’re rejecting them, whether we are or not.
Ruth Haley Barton continues:
“Spiritual freedom would be the freedom to be what and who God is calling me to be, not who I am determined to be or who others are expecting me to be.”
Spiritual freedom, then, speaks of ordered attachments as opposed to disordered attachments, which are maneuverings of the false self, which is hidden but paradoxically present in all our lives. Spiritual freedom which is demonstrated in a shalom-type-peace of wholeness comes from pleasing God first, and then as an outworking, it’s the serving of others according to God’s will, as a consequence.
Spiritual freedom can only come once God is pleased, and God is pleased when we are true to the nature God has called us into. This involves a lot of letting go—and not just the bad things that are bad for us; but also good things that are too much for us, good things that are not right for a present season, good things that are not being used for the purposes of God, or good things that we covet greedily or lustfully. Good things that go or have gone bad.
If we’re following Jesus correctly, we only encounter God authentically through experiencing our loneliness, disappointments and frustrations in truth, with God, by speaking to God in prayer whilst bearing these burdens at the depths of our rawest feelings. We think such an experience will be deplorable, but actually, this is HOW we encounter God—in the nothingness of neither resisting nor denying the painful realities of our lives.
It isn’t God overcoming us as the world would have us believe; it’s God helping us to overcome the world through experiencing the depths of God’s Presence, which is to go to places we would normally prefer to deny were even there. The world that would just as well have us trapped in getting everything we ever wanted to the forfeiture of our own souls!
Strength comes, therefore, out of inordinate weakness, and to ‘go there’ with God is absolutely the rarest of phenomena. This is why intimacy with God is so rare an experience for us. We need to be weak to be close, and just about all of us resist that weakness by habit of comfort and modern convenience. We prefer strength of our own design, as much because we can control it. Strength by faith is too scary for us, yet all we need to do is see the opportunity in weakness and in conflict.
Christian faith is a game-changer, because it is entirely couched in the opportunity that lies within “bad” things. Faith makes victory out of likely defeat, BECAUSE of the presence of bad things. Faith sees the opportunity in what might make us tremble, depressed, disgusted or angry and delights in such an opportunity.
Whenever we fear or are angered most, there, in the midst of the fear or anger is opportunity—to turn our weakness over to God, to encounter God by Presence, to resist insisting upon our own way, to live the strength that comes simply by bearing one’s own painful truth.
Opportunities come thick in life, and I mean many times daily, and we know them most by what we prefer to avoid. We loath disappointment, we hate betrayal, and we despise frustration, but these are all Gateways to the Presence of Almighty God.
Finally, once we understand and begin to live into this spiritual freedom, once we have reordered our attachments, we feel freer to disassemble the disordered attachments we have with others, because we have broken the disordered attachments we have had with ourselves.
All this, because we truly began putting God first when and where only God could help. And instead of running from God and creating all sorts of messes for ourselves, we put God first and finally felt empowered to place our relationships in God’s care.
Would we be surprised if God is begging us to curtail some relationships and activities, and to end others? Let us never forget it was Jesus who commended the disciples for discerning when to kick the dust off their feet!
It would be appropriate to close with a final quote from Ruth Haley Barton:
“Spiritual freedom is not freedom to do anything I want. It is freedom from everything that is not [of] God; it is being solely oriented and responsive to the person of Christ in the depths of our being.”
Quotes taken from “Invitation to Retreat: The Gift and Necessity of Time Away with God,” by Ruth Haley Barton (IVP, 2018).

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Why psychological abuse is endured for so long before deciding to leave

I have often wondered if the more bruises we receive, the more “obvious” the abuse, the starker the damage being done, the less likely we’re to hang around. But psychological abuse is really just as damaging, and arguably more so, apart from the obvious fatalistic factors involved—physical violence can lead to maiming and murder. And yet, psychological violence also metes out anatomical and physiological changes! Trauma marks the body.
It’s normal for people to stay in abusive relationships far too long. Only afterward, after many years, and possibly several children, decades on in many cases, do people (usually women) finally leave. We might always ask why. Of an inexhaustive list, there are potentially many reasons.
It can take a long while (years and years) to determine that the love we have for an individual is no match for their toxic nature. No amount of charm can make up for such a calamitous shortfall in character.
It can take a long time to be able to finally accept they won’t change. It’s a sad fact that true repentance is comparatively rare; much change is due to a massive helping of God’s grace, combined with the conviction of the changed one’s heart. Honesty predisposes the whole process of repentance.
It can take ages to begin to comprehend the damage done, and not just to the self, but to one’s kids and others as well. When I say the word, “begin,” I really mean that. It can take a long time for the penny to drop. I’ve seen this in several areas of my own life, both personally and as a pastor and counsellor with a role in others’ lives. Realisations occur slowly and are not like revelations (which occur overnight), but a realisation can often come about through a revelation.
Having been poorly advised, especially by spiritual leaders and people we look up to, we may have made a range of ill-advised decisions to stay in a toxic arrangement. “You have to give them a chance to repent... pray harder... be a better wife/husband... lead by your own example...” This kind of advice, while it can be well meant (sometimes it isn’t!), is damaging in the extreme, because it fails to look at the truth. Abuse must be confronted.
It can take ages before the pain of staying outweighs the disadvantages, stress and trauma of leaving; and only when one has left does the full enormity set in. Who willingly goes into a full-blown grief process? Only the one who has already done much grieving. The relief, the perspective, the regrets, the processing of grief, and the picking up of the pieces; these are just a scratching of the surface. 
It can take a long while to put all the pieces together—perhaps it’s an affair that exposes the character that has been emotionally and spiritually abusive, manipulative and engaged in gaslighting all along. It can take that long before we deduce that the varietals of abuse run in a pack—various forms of abuse (not just one) teem forth out of an immoral and unrepentant heart.
Whatever it is, it can take a long time to really accept that the other person can and will never take responsibility for the impacts that their own lives create. This is the crux of the issue. A whole litany of immorality is birthed from a person who has little capacity to be honest with themselves to the point that they can begin a journey of taking their responsibility. They never grow up. And sadly, their lack of courage makes them dangerous cowards.
Indeed, one of the more obvious reasons people don’t leave sooner is the perception or reality that it’s safer to stay. What horrendous evil makes that so! If we imagine how much worse they might treat us and those we love when the relationship is ended, it demands serious reflection. Of course, it’s also part of the mind game that “this” psychological abuse isn’t real abuse... let me tell you, it’s REAL abuse! Fear is fear!
Some, in their wisdom (yes, really true), stay because the risks of staying outweigh the risks of leaving. They determine strategies to minimise the abuse or the effects of the abuse. They use abusive experiences as object lessons and add these to their “life experience.” These can handle the tension that ambiguous environments and circumstances are replete with. Not everyone can. I admit, I’m one who can’t. There’s no shame in admitting this.
It can take an eon to understand, let alone to accept and therefore decide on a plan of action. It can take a very long time indeed to finally decide, “This person will NEVER repent; they’ll never be honest; they’ll never change! It’s up to ME to make the changes!”
Of course, there are times in some relationships when we find out all of a sudden that the relationship was a farce from the beginning; we feel foolish to be the last one to catch on. Part of us wants to say, “How could you have kept all that secret? Had I known the full story, I’d have left long ago.” Well, most people don’t buy it. Most people don’t want to get involved because they’re protecting our dignity, or they fear the personal ramifications. And, of course, we recognise this when we’re honest; these are awkward situations nobody wants to wrestle with. Often, it’s easier to wish them away.
I thank God for the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements. Social media has made it possible for crucial social justice issues to come to the fore, where platforms of advocacy can begin to promote issues that have always plagued society and educate a growingly curious populace. Social action is inspired at the level of people’s personal lives.
There are many issues and reasons and “whys” I won’t have covered here; it’s an article and not a book after all, but the point should be well made. People endure abusive relationships and toxic environments often far longer than they should have, but as with everything, everything’s logical from hindsight. There are always very valid reasons why we endure pain.
Psychological abuse is just as, if not more an issue, as physical and sexual abuse, often because it underpins all abuse. It is evil and it should never be accepted. Perhaps the old Maya Angelou quote fits here to finish: “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”
The great advantage we do have in having endured abusive relationships is we’re gifted a discernment for the abusive nature. We can begin to see it in other relationships and other people, and it is also hoped that we can see our own capacity for abusing people.
Sure as anything, we will abuse people if we do not heal. While the abuse could never be our fault, our healing is our responsibility, whether it’s fair or not.
Those of us who take responsibility for our lives—even when that means picking up pieces that were scattered unfairly—will always prosper. This is a task for every single person on the planet. God is not being unfair.
Those who take responsibility for their lives will master their destiny.

Photo by Andrik Langfield on Unsplash

Saturday, December 21, 2019

How will I respond when I’m hurt next?

I’ve responded well to being hurt, and I’ve responded poorly; probably more the latter most lately. Indeed, I can remember being hurt more than most people could imagine but being healed in a miraculous way—15 or 16 years ago now. But it’s what I’ve experienced in the past 5-10 years, and my poor responses to hurt, that have shown me most about myself and have shone the light of opportunity into my struggle.
It’s true that we have our greatest opportunities to grow through the advent of pain. But we don’t always grow, and much of the time, if bitterness continues to grow, we can end up hard of heart.
We are told in the Bible to, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” (Proverbs 4:23) All of life comes from the inner unction of the heart. When we get hurt—not if, because there will always be a when—we must either respond well through God’s grace or learn from the times we respond poorly.
There’s no shame in getting it wrong. There’s nothing to feel guilty about when we feel a failure to God. God knows each and every one of us and God accepts who we are—AS we are—as if we have no foibles or blemishes—because of Christ.
So, when it comes to being hurt, especially if we’re Christian by other Christians (who we believe should know or be doing better), we need to see ourselves confronted with a choice. It doesn’t matter whether it’s partly our fault or not, or whether none of its our fault, because when we respond poorly to being hurt, we become part of the extension of the problem, even if it’s only us and our remaining loved ones who must deal with it.
It leaves us with a question to ponder as we look behind us and agree again to let it go. As we continue our walk into the unknown and unknowable future, we can still say, “How will I respond to the next hurt?”
We need to be prepared for it.
In these ways, perhaps we’ll carry Proverbs 4:23 more intentionally in our hearts? How will we approach the reality of the fallibility and brokenness of sinners who will sin against us? How will we see our own weaknesses and brokenness? And, more importantly, how will we allow God to hold us to a short account?
Yes, perhaps a good question to go with, “How will I respond to the next hurt?” is “How will I respond when I hurt the next person?”
It’s good to ponder.
Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

“When does drinking become a problem? Umm, I’m asking for a friend”

Probably not what many want to be thinking about just before Christmas, but those who have a problem with alcohol are already possibly concerned about their intake and are possibly toying with the idea of reducing it or giving drinking up completely.
I hear from many Christians who are astounded as to how many Christians become problem drinkers; about as many possibly as those who develop problems with pornography. Christians just about represent societal averages these days.
Whenever someone asks me whether I think they drink too much, I ask, “Well, how much do you drink… how many standard drinks do you consume each week?”
Now, as a person who has recovered from alcoholism, I can tell you what they say is both about the number and not about the number.
I’m interested in any sense of hesitancy in their answer, which indicates shame, which highlights a deeper issue and pinpoints a problem.
But I’m also interested in the figure they give. Many people who have a problem with alcohol either can’t tell me how much they drink, or they rationalise or minimise it somehow.
I have always said to my adult daughters, “If you enjoy the occasional drink (i.e. literally one or two in a sitting) and you’re never preoccupied by desiring to drink, there’s no problem; drink. But if you ever need to drink more than that, and especially if it becomes a pattern, your drinking has become a problem.”
You see, it’s a slippery slope. It takes a few years before drinking becomes part of our lived culture. When it’s part of our weekly grocery shop, especially when it’s a must-have, it’s already becoming too great a problem.
It wasn’t until I stopped drinking entirely in 2003 that I began to realise the sheer bliss in being straight of mind. It’s like the person who says, “I never get drunk, just a little tipsy…” when they’re consuming two bottles of scotch, plus wine and beer each and every week. What they miss out on is the blessing of being completely free of the stuff. Being straight of mind is bliss. Sobriety is wonderful!
Again, I know that this article comes at a really bad time, when people are most ready to let their hair down and enjoy a good bit of Christmas cheer.
A few questions to leave you with. Is it possible that how much you drink is setting you up for health impacts (physical and spiritual) later in life? Is it possible that your drinking is a cover for deeper emotional needs that would be better answered honestly? Is it possible that you’re leading by the wrong example (minors, for instance) in how much and how often you consume alcohol? And finally, do you ever hide your drinking?
I’ve ventured into this subject lightly. The truth is, out of control drinking has social effects on many families, and that often translates into visible effects of varieties of abuse and neglect. That’s a topic for a future article.

Photo by Kelsey Chance on Unsplash

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

The lady with the gnarled fingers

It was a day where I was down on my luck. Three in a row, indeed! Now, even if I do have some very lamentable lows, one or two days a month, to have three in a row I know is endemic of something more sinister. So, there I was, at the doctors.
Arriving at 11.55am for my 12pm appointment, I got the laptop out, spotted up to my WI-FI and got on with some work while I waited. The waiting room was packed. Not a good sign. Little did I know nearly 90 minutes later that there were at least two patients who’d been waiting there for the same doctor for three hours! On school pick-up, I decided to shut up shop and let Reception know to cancel the booking and get me in tomorrow.
Depression works differently in us all. For me, my mental capacity is compromised severely, and I can become intimidated by the things that I would normally get done with aplomb. For me, intimidation manifests in a mix of despondency and irritation. It’s like God gets my attention through overload and if I don’t take heed and rest, I begin to run very ragged.
As I stood at the counter nurturing a heart of complaint, something within me (I know this to be God) quieted my voice, and I felt especially weak. Humbled. Which I was glad of, even if when depression grips I ordinarily fight to retain even a semblance of my own pitiful strength.
I leant against the counter as I spoke quieter than normal with the receptionist.
As I leant there in an uncharacteristic slump, I looked at the lady’s fingers as she scrolled through names in looking for me and my booking. Those gnarled fingers spoke their story of a faithfulness beyond skeletal capacity.
God knew that I needed a sign, and those beautifully misshapen fingers caused my heart to turn back in deference for the way God shines through abject lack of complaint in physical incapacity.
There was something remarkable about those fingers; those deformed hands. They spoke of a person who got on with her life despite her incapacity. This sign softened my heart not for her, more truly, but this sign highlighted a better place for my focus to rest.
This is not to say that a discipled mind fixes depression, but I have found as my mind is compelled to focus on such things as gnarled fingers and hands, I pity myself and my struggles less, and my mind comes back online, even if briefly. It’s an object lesson in the power of gratitude, which is not a fix-all for mental health, but it does help.
There is still so much to be said for a disciplined mind. We would say “yes” less often in order to care for ourselves better. We would design and implement wise boundaries earlier. And we would not avoid the structure we need in favour of the freedom of apathy, which only makes things worse.
God got through to me through an older lady with gnarled fingers. I was genuinely humbled. It did me good. It’s not enough to sustain me as I recover, but it’s important cue in a sea of many that may be seen.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

A blessing for anyone with seasonal blues

The condition known as seasonal blues is as ambiguous as it is real. Part of facing it is identifying that its causes are an enigma. We may think we can pinpoint the cause, and thereby plan our response, but the fact is the causes are not generally knowable; even when we think we know some of the reasons.
So, instead, here is a blessing in the bewildering state you may find yourself in.
God of created order,
The one of structure, who gives structure, even if it’s organic in nature, You give us the capacity to desire structure, even if we might normally resist it for the freedom we crave. Give us the semblance of a structure for overcoming the harrowing disappointment of the blues at what could otherwise be an exciting time.
There are those of us who loath this time of year, also for good reason. Be with this one and assure them that, “this, too, shall pass,” and that You, Lord, GET their antipathy or even disgust they or we have with the season.
For those who feel guilty for feeling this way, especially for those who are made to feel guilty for being this way, give them the reminder of Your approval—that they don’t need to change their views in order to be unconditionally accepted by You. You don’t see our blues as a sin, O Lord, and for this, we’re just so thankful.
For those who have had loss at this time of year, or for those whose memories continue to haunt, give to these Your covering of blessing that they might know something tangible about Your Presence (a sign!) this very season.
For those who are DONE for the year, Lord, and I mean so OVER all the stress, the conflict, the tasks, the competing priorities, give to this one the rest they seek, due in this season. Make it that sensible boundaries are constructed, and that suitable reflection for change is made, so improvements might be made to enhance lifestyle.
For that one who is deep in their depression, or staving off serious assaults of anxiety, or triggered for grief, please, Lord, be that sweetly powerful Presence, a fragrant reminder in them, that ushers peace for torment, tranquillity for doubt, sure-footedness for insecurity.
Lord, most of all, reassure the person who is betwixt and between right now that suffering seasonal blues or even having seasonal affective disorder is both typical for life and acceptable in Your sight. 
Give to any as is their need, Your grace for any struggling hour,
In the lifegiving name of Jesus,

Photo by Nicolas Picard on Unsplash

Friday, December 13, 2019

When no matter what you do your support isn’t enough

This is a companion article to “Why you should NOT feel guilty for needing support.”
I’m so thankful when people come back and lovingly state a counter view, for there is a very important counter view here.
I started with the premise in the previous article that there are times in all our lives when we’re floored by loss, and, that by receiving the support of incredibly gracious care, we often are inspired to (later, much later) become good carers in the manner for which we received that care. I should also have mentioned in that article that some people really do seem to be gifted to be support, and if we respond to that support by wanting to provide support later on, we too may be gifted to give that support. Not everyone has this gift of merciful shepherding.
There is a point to be made around those who constantly crave care. There are those who prove addicted to care. They’re characterised by the need for care.
This is draining on anyone who’s in the caring role, no matter our heart or gifting for caring. We all have finite resources.
The person needing support has either a heart of gratitude for the support they receive, or they don’t, and they can even show up for support with the intent of entitlement that we provide care. We can determine this is the case by how guilty we may be made to feel for instituting boundaries.
The old adage of, “Give a tough job to a busy person and they’ll get it done,” is hugely pertinent here. If we’re empathetic people, we’ll naturally and normally be in the role of support person, unless we’re in a season of needing support ourselves. 
The point is, those who are not empathetic discern the empath with precise accuracy.
This is a trigger for any of us given the support role to determine when someone is behaving narcissistically, i.e. they feel ENTITLED to our time, resources, effort, money, etc. Not only that, they will EXPLOIT anything we give them, and they will never usually feel any EMPATHY for where we’re at. And even if they do apologise for any infraction they make, it can so often be that their heart isn’t really oriented toward remorse. We need to be cautious with those who give apologies and quickly want to move on.
Anyone is entitled to a portion of support, but that support can’t be demanded from us. If we ourselves can’t provide the support, it’s up to the person needing support to get it elsewhere. It’s not our responsibility; it’s theirs. And it is never a wise idea to be a sole supporter of a person. That sets up co-dependency that narcissists love to exploit.
A person with the right heart who requires support in their loss will take responsibility to establish a broad base of support and they’ll take responsibility for their journey to recovery. Recovery is one of the toughest times in our lives, but we can’t shirk the tasks, which is about owning each step, however tough that is.
Providing and receiving support is always a tenuous journey loaded with potential for conflict. We do need to care for ourselves first, or we’re no good to anyone.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Why you should NOT feel guilty for needing support

I know there are exceptions for everything, and it’s certainly the case that any of us can be “needy,” but if we can’t be needy when we’re truly needy, something’s wrong.
When we’re in need of mental, emotional, spiritual, psychological support—presumably through circumstances of suffering—we do NOT get better without support.
When I talk about support, just as grief takes longer than any of us would initially care to endure, the requirements of the support we need is also going to be much more than we initially realise.
We require support over a longer time period than we realise. We require deeper support than we would like to admit. And the requirements of the support we need will often push our support resources to the limit. The person has been amply supported through their suffering to the point where it didn’t create conflict from within their support base is blessed indeed.
Now, there is positively no need to feel guilty for needing support. Anyone who would make us feel guilty is either fatigued themselves, or they may not be fit to be part of our support network.
There may be another reason why their support may be lacking, but what we most need at times of crisis is reassurance, safety and encouragement. We don’t need the added stress of looking after the other person’s feelings or feeling conflicted about whether we can draw on their support or not, or the added confusion (can I, or can’t I?) at an already confusing time. And we definitely do not need to be “challenged” at a time when our resolve to live is at its weakest. Tough love has its advantages only when a person is sick and tired of being sick and tired—not when a person questions their very existence.
The biggest reason we should not feel guilty for needing support is fundamental to our future. This cannot be understated. It’s at times of loss and trauma and crisis, where we do receive an inspiring level of support, when we know that we most need it, that we learn ourselves the kind of support God will provide through us, at a future time when we have recovered!
This speaks directly to the rationale behind what Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians chapter 1, where he states that we provide comfort to others in accordance with the comfort we received; the comfort of God’s Holy Spirit that we experience palpably when we receive support at the time of our lives when we most need it.
The obvious priority of the person seeking support is that they don’t wear their support base thin. If that’s not the priority, then there could be a problem. But if the last thing a person wants to do is seek support they really do need—yet they have the humility to seek that support out, because they simply can’t do without it—that seems a genuine case.
I want to reiterate that a suffering person who receives the support they need is a future advocate and agent of support for others; this is how so many of us came to be in ministry in the first place. If a person doesn’t get the support they need, they not only suffer needlessly, they don’t get better, and they don’t discover what the Holy Spirit is capable of through the powerfully simple act of enduring care.
There is something that grace can only teach us through tangible support that proves its unconditionality when we’re suffering. Grace at such a time as this has the capacity to swell our belief in goodness and the faithfulness of God exponentially.
One final word: there’s a real gender disparity when it comes to those seeking support. Many women may struggle to rely on support, but men particularly are much less likely to seek support. This is due to cultural and biological factors, among others, but we really must make it easier and more culturally acceptable for men to reach out and be vulnerable.

Photo by Neil Thomas on Unsplash

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Praying with a spirit of closure after narcissistic abuse

Closure is a concept I’ve not readily adhered to, but I recognise it’s important for many; to believe that closure works and that it is possible. And even if it’s only a placebo, placebos do work through the power of the mind coaching the body toward destiny. But, having said this, I don’t believe closure is simply placebo. It really is possible, but only in certain conditions.
I do believe God calls us to pray for all our relationships, and not least for those that have gone south; where, in the present case, the spirit of criticism or oppression has convinced us it’s time to move on.
It’s far too easy to be angry toward the person who has left us racked with trauma for the abuse incurred through the situations of the relationship we were in. Before we realised, it’s too late to regret what has now taken place.
It’s far too rational and reasonable to be annoyed that we couldn’t get through to them. Before we realised, we’d never get through.
It’s far too devastating that they don’t apologise like any genuine (repentant) Christian might for the hurt they caused. Before we realised, they won’t repent because they can’t.
It’s far too simple to think these things. These are our defaults.
Those who showed narcissistic traits with us when we related with them will not suddenly stop behaving narcissistically when we’re estranged. It’s like expecting a person to treat us better after we asked them to give the gift we gave them back, compared with when they first received the gift. Why would they? There is less motivation for them to be reasonable than ever.
And of course, we’re dealing with someone who doesn’t have the capacity to be reasonable. They may appear to be reasonable when there’s something for them to gain, but they definitely will NOT be reasonable, nor comply with reasonable requests, when they might stand to lose.
So, how do we reach an acceptable closure? Prayer. The answer is always prayer. But how do we pray if we hope to make even an iota’s difference as far as our own moving on process is concerned?
It’s all about the orientation of our prayers. Where are they pointed?
If they’re pointed as prayers of imprecation (yes, that’s a thing), and we pray that God would smite them for their wickedness, even though in some ways these might be godly prayers, they don’t serve us well in the long run.
If we pray prayers that God would transform our own hearts, that God would alleviate us of our feelings toward them, these too are godly prayers, but we may find they might still miss the mark in terms of effectiveness if we want closure.
But if we pray prayers that reflect a particular heart, we will steer ourselves in the direction of closure. To do this, we must get inside the narcissist and truly understand WHY it is they’re so recalcitrant. Why are they such ignoble bullies? Why is it they have no capacity to love? Why is there such wilful paucity of spirit in them?
If we know them, we probably know why. The dysfunction was inflicted upon them from early on by a cruel parent perhaps. Maybe they were never loved and have rejected the idea that they’re not loveable as much as they resented everyone who’s been loved. If we can see the root of the envy, pride and malice in them, the reason for their guile, and we can understand how it got there, two things happen.
1) we become grateful for all that we’ve been given in this life, not least the capacity to love and be loved. And, 2) we genuinely pity them that their lack is due at source to a lack of love.
All narcissism is due to a lack of being loved, whether it was through the neglect of abuse or the neglect of being spoilt rotten and raised to feel entitled. Both of those occur through a lack of love.
What makes closure possible is a change of heart. We can’t simply decide we’re closing a chapter in our life on a whim. Our hearts change when we pity the one who, no matter how much they got from us, will never ever have what we have. 
Get to a place like this and that pity for them will drive a prayer life where you’ll pray they finally do “get” love, but not for your sake; for theirs! It’s difficult for survivors to get to this sense of closure, but it is vitally pivotal, because, once we’re there, healing happens at once.
It’s a great love that has us dying to ourselves because we’ve been loved, so much so that we pray that the person in our life who hasn’t been loved would know the love that we know. This is not about being better than they are. This is about wanting for them something we already have—a love that gives us the capacity to love. 

Photo by @gebhartyler on Unsplash

Monday, December 9, 2019

It takes a village to raise a child, and only one to traumatise it

Adverse childhood experiences (or ACEs) you may or may not have heard of. These are what occur in so many children’s lives—most—that leave a lasting impact and contribute so much in terms of leaving the adult prone to a life of addiction, substance misuse (including food), trauma, mental health issues, etc. The list goes on. Chances are if you’re reading this right now, you have some ACEs on board from decades ago, it is that common.
I have more than one if I consider the one I can think of in a flash. It had nothing to do with my parents, and simply occurred at a public swimming pool through being a less than confident swimmer.
The reason for this article is simple. That is, to highlight that while it does take a village to raise a child—so many people are involved in that child’s development—it also shows us how vulnerable a child is to exploitation—and how much a challenge that is to the child’s diligent parents (assuming they’re unconditionally loving toward the child) in their task to raise their child, against the backdrop of background risk of their child sustaining ACEs.
The aim of this article is to 1) raise awareness, 2) spread empathy, and 3) motivate action.
I want to make you aware that, of the world’s population, the persons who are most impacted by violence are those who have least influence over it: children. And in terms of violence, I want to suggest that even ridicule is violence to children—to their spirit. Mocking, ridicule, neglect, abandonment, chiding, even rebuking in many insensitive ways; all these are examples of violence that do harm to children.
Do you realise how hard it is to raise a child in this village context—where many adults, older children, peers, and even younger children potentially do damage to them?
It takes a village to raise a child, yet just one to destroy their spirit, through an unspeakable trauma, or even an unrequited trauma in the one doing violence.
We must all begin to see and realise and accept the childhood trauma that is in each of us; that which, left unchecked and unhealed, continues as violence, because trauma begets trauma. We must therefore become owners of our own trauma, and stewards of our own healing, or we will simply propagate more child abuse.
We must motivate action—both from within ourselves and in others.
We must do all we can to not only promote healing, but to see every harm done against the child (done in a village context, meaning all harms done to them globally through their lived experience) is reconciled, as far as that depends on us. Perhaps we can’t bring about a complete healing, but at least we can debrief with children the harms that occur and teach them a courageously honest way of talking about it, from as early an age as possible, with the help of appropriate professionals.
It is so important that children learn to be honest—that they’re allowed to be honest, and that it is best to be honest—about the things that occur that should not have occurred.
On far too many occasions, however, the child will need to recount something that happened that incriminates one, which also involves the broader community feeling recrimination. If we as a community—whether that be a family or a whole society—cannot hear the complaint, we do that one young person (who may be a good deal older by now) a huge disservice and will carry the trauma with them, carrying the additional threat of that trauma leaking onto others.
As a society we must become more truth-telling and more tolerant of hearing traumas brought to us that they may be healed, without feeling threatened that such things are being done to destroy us.
If we damage the child, we must be prepared to triage the child.

Photo by  Janko Ferlič on Unsplash