Friday, August 31, 2012

Simplify, Focus, Overcome

Finding a way to live the authentic spiritual life—one devoted to Jesus: Saviour, Lord, Healer, Priest, Prophet and King—is difficult. If our life is a prayer, as in continually seeking God regarding guidance on how to live, the Spirit will lead us.
And the Spirit may lead us to simplify, focus, and overcome.
In an often busy life—busier than we often need it to be, because of the vast degrees of distraction in today’s life—we have the opportunity to create efficiencies in our spiritual life that rub off practically, also.
We can simplify. We can focus. Then, we can overcome.
Simplifying life is a masterstroke. This is not about making life simple, but, in appreciating the complexities, it’s distilling them down. When we appreciate that less is more in life we gain more out of it for less worry and bother.
It’s a discipline to simplify the complex; again, not to make things simplistic, but to make them inspiringly practical, to the point of genius. Everyone detects wisdom in simplification. Everyone marvels at the wonder of elegance; elegant simplicity.
Simplifying our lives is getting rid of waste, whilst ensuring we do the important things first. It depends on how self-disciplined we make ourselves to be.
Simplifying our lives requires us to focus. From a scattergun approach we learn to direct our efforts. This way we achieve better results. Focus is the straight path.
As a magnifying glass concentrates the sun’s heat and light energy to burn up combustible material, so our focus can bring great effect and energy into our lives.
We can all focus better: on our goals; on our habits; on our loves; and on our faithfulness to God.
When we have simplified life, and brought sufficient focus to bear, we are poised and ready to overcome. We are never better positioned to make sweeping blows in the good fight of the faith.
To be able to overcome in life is the grandest of all skills. If nothing that came against us could defeat us, interminably speaking, we would truly be a force to be reckoned with. In Jesus’ name, alone, we overcome.
To simplify, focus, and overcome is power for the optimisation of the spiritual life.
If we want to be transformed, and we should be hungry for it, we are best to simplify life, focus our energies, and overcome all themes present in our lives that are against God.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

2 Ways of Responding Positively to Grief

Recalling now my first real and acknowledged experience of grief, I sense that these two ways of working within the pain restore our resilience, and even help with paving a stronger path for us.
What is described below is known as the Dual Process Model for Coping with Bereavement (Stroebe & Schut). We can extend the term ‘bereavement’ to loss, not simply of death, but of critical losses, like in relationships, finances, and employment.
With grief we can work in two directions with positive effect. We can work with a view on the past, just as we can work with a view on the future.
On different days we have different capacities and different viewpoints. Sometimes we are strong and other times we are weak.
Loss-Oriented Work
Working in the past goes two ways. When we are strong we work on relinquishing our bonds and ties—those that were precious to us but are now gone. We work in the pain zone of our grief through tears of reflection.
Here, we feel strongly enough to languish in the lament of the truth.
When we are not so strong we can be comforted in a sense of denial and avoidance of restorative changes. Some days we cannot hack this grief work, so we don’t force ourselves. Forcing matters only brings distress. Some days the pain is too great and being gentle with ourselves is the best thing to achieve.
Working with grief involves negotiating a maze; we are destined to reach many dead ends, but eventually, having done all our work, we find ourselves in the land of restoration.
Restoration-Oriented Work
Working in the future also goes two ways. When we are feeling strong and we are looking to our future we begin to explore concepts for change and visualise how it might look. We envisage new roles and a newer, face-lifted identity. Such newness we begin to find is a new challenge to be explored; we are excited.
We are doing new things, and parts of us we never knew existed begin to emerge.
When we are feeling not so strong, on the other hand, looking forward from where we are is an opportunity to deny the pain, when, for that day, the pain is too great. Grief is like this sometimes. It reminds us we cannot control life all the time. Looking to the future becomes a distraction from our grief.
The dual process model works via oscillation: we move between the two. Some days we work in the past and other days we work in the future. Some days we are weak and we deny and avoid. Some days we are stronger and we venture a little into our grief, or we plan for our future.
God has blessed us with options when working through the maze of our grief. We can work in the past or on the future. We can flourish or languish. All of this is allowed. Grief encompasses all corners of human emotion, including many that may be new.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Enduring the Strong Wind of Adversity

“Adversity is like a strong wind. It tears away from us all but the things that cannot be torn, so that we see ourselves as we really are.”
—Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha
Nobody willingly goes into a grief-rending period of life. These adversities come without warning and they sweep away our equilibrium from under us. Times as these, when life dies, convey us, against our will, into the realm of unprecedented uncertainty. Life as it was is gone. And all we are left with are pieces of ourselves that are never more inherently us. It is an astounding paradox that, in these times, against the flow of lesser judgment, our ally in God comes to carry us majestically through.
Proof of the providence of God comes in the appositional breeze making meaning out of the harsh strong winds. Meaning-making is where God comes in. One day, out of the sordid mess, comes the meaning we were looking for; if we view life as a stream of lessons to be learned. If we depend on God, this can be true for us.
The Visceral Conflict In Adversity
When things are being torn from our souls, and we feel exposed to the elements, there is much inner torment; a conflict unparalleled.
The harder things get the more we can rely on God, and the more we witness the power of grace as we reflect having endured the worst of it.
We never enjoy these processes of refining, where the strong winds of adversity blow off every vagrant leaf and ticket of unnecessary nuisance. As we are broken down into the core material that subsists us, we get to learn who we are. But only with God, in faith, is this statement true. Without God we resent the refining. With God we can endure this process of becoming.

We come to appreciate the enormous benefit of understanding what must occur with our faith:
“Faith must be tested, because it can only be turned into a personal possession through conflict.”
—Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest
We cannot do much about the adversities that blow hard into our lives, except have the faith to know that what is left behind is most centrally us. This assumes that we accept we are unfinished works on the potter’s wheel of the Great Potter.
Faith is a possession that is built for war—the spiritual variety. When all of life runs swimmingly faith lays dormant. But when our experience turns south, and our spiritual appearance goes pear-shaped, faith emerges and is the stoic friend named God carrying us through.
Through faith we endure the harshest of strong winds of adversity. What is hell at the time comes out, strangely, as the making of us. Only with God could we make meaning out of such unmitigated disaster.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Striving to Be Joyful

“Be happy, talk happiness. Happiness calls out responsive gladness in others.”
~Helen Keller
It was Helen Keller’s belief that God gave us life for happiness, not misery, despite our predilection to wallow in thoughts for suffering that mere existence offers up serenely each day. Perhaps her point is we can take what we want—happiness or negativity.
So why would we insist on glumness when happiness can be our order? It’s because we are given to complaint; we need to fight past this in order to redeem happiness.
The Influence Of Happiness
The boldness of an individual can change things for the group. If one person is prepared to fight for happiness, to make it their own, and, in that, bring it to others, that one person is a hero. They obey God. They bring divinity to life.
The influence of happiness is powerful when we consider it’s actually hard to be negative around positive people. This “responsive gladness” that Keller remarks upon is true.
When we take responsibility for our happiness it tends to shift the bases of others’ hearts for happiness, too. There is some effect, some impact, and we can be the key.
None of this projected happiness needs to be faked, because even in the midst of gloom, the corner can be turned at any time. If we are at the ready, and live fervently in such a way, generally hopeful, we loan happiness from tomorrow before it arrives.
The genuine soul who maintains a gentle grip on what is yet to be has reason to project hope like ripples into their emergent world.
Happiness is infectious if it can be resilient enough not to fold when things get calamitous. Calamities there will always be, but hope for happiness is always the answer.
Happiness Can Be As Brash As It Wants To Be
There are no rules in life telling us we cannot be happy. No one decides for us. We, alone, are the masters and mistresses of our happy (or not-so-happy) destinies.
Why would we choose unhappiness?
When we understand that happiness can be as brash as it wants to be we can be as bold as lions. Then we create a sublimely happy intent that wells up within us and spills over the edges, leaking all over others’ lives. When we insist on our happy way, without insisting others be happy, happiness does tend to influence others.
Just think of the amount of power contained within this theory: we can be happy if we want to be.
Happiness is infectious. If we resolve to be happy, being hopeful for what is still coming, our happiness spills over into others’ lives. It’s hard to be negative around happy people. Ours is the opportunity to project happiness. Why? Because we can.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

5 Ways to R.E.L.A.X.

Anxious times breed anxious awareness, besides the greater unconscious aspects of anxiety. We all suffer from anxiety and we all benefit from relaxing.
1. Re-schedule What’s Not Important or Not Urgent
So much of our stress is self-induced and self-imposed. We choose to do unimportant things at the expense of the important and the urgent. And many times we prioritise the urgent over the important.
If we can be self-disciplined enough to do what we must do first, and carefully avoid activities that waste our time, we create more downtime to relax.
2. Engage in the Contemplative
Prayer is important. It is not just about speaking to God, or listening either. Prayer is engaging in the contemplative. Meditating and reflecting are prayerful activities, because God is speaking to us through our spirits.
When we engage in the contemplative we find a garden, a quiet beach, a starry night. Our minds wander and it is therapy for our souls. God speaks to us more in these moments, when we are free of our interrupting cognitions.
3. Let Go of What Causes Anxiety
This may sound easy, but it’s hard many times. We can identify the signs of our anxiety, yet we can’t always determine the precise source nor do what we need to do about it.
But we can list overt sources. When we let go of what causes anxiety we do it consciously, and we create a habit of relaxing. The more we practice this, the more we master it. And there’s every good reason to do this. We are the benefactors.
4. Allow the Uncontrollables
We cannot control what we cannot control. It sounds like a no-brainer. But much of our anxiety is caused by allowing the uncontrollable elements of life reign over us. It would be more logical to accept the uncontrollable elements, and put them beyond reach of interrupting our equilibrium.
5. X-Ray Vision
When we think of x-ray vision, we get machinations of superheroes in our minds. But the type of x-ray vision I’m talking about is being able to see through situations, to glean the broader perspective. When we have truer perspectives we’ll know the rite of passage for relaxation—that, to have a calm mind is a gift of the Lord.
A relaxed frame of mind is a gift from the Lord to those who are self-disciplined, prayerful, anxiety-ridding, who can accept uncontrollables, and to those who have vision.
Our momentary anxiety is lightened in relaxation; the willingness and learned ability to think and behave in relaxing ways. One moment at a time we can relax and enjoy life more.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Meeting a Crisis In Faith

“... let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith...”
—Hebrews 12:1b-2a (NRSV)
Some periods in life are harder than others, and there are some times ahead, as perhaps they’ve passed behind us, where our faith to step—to take the next step—flounders, for lack of vision. Times like these occur in crisis.
When we most need faith, our faith is tested. That’s a tragic irony.
Crises have about them the nature of variegated panic. Never are crises simple. The complexities are genuinely overwhelming, and hope for a vision, for a purpose out of all this, disappears for a time. Sometimes the duration is much longer than we expect.
When our faith is being tested all we can do is meet the test in faith. But what does that mean?
The Basics of Faith in Crisis
In a crisis our moments become more intense. There seems to be no escapable moments. We must live them all; without the surety of hope we may be used to.
Each hour is a project in itself, and each day is a marathon. We struggle for time, and we struggle for meaning, because the feedback we get is that there is not enough time and not enough impact made for what we are doing.
The basics of faith are our only help to get through each hour; to make it through each day. With self-discipline we focus on getting the sleep we need—as best we can manage it. Sleep is the pivot point on which our health and wellbeing relies in crisis.
Faith is a thing of belief that God will lead us each step—each decision—each sequential second. Never more is it of great importance that we can rely on God in faith than in a crisis.
As we take each step, trusting God, we don’t need to be ‘happy’ so much, as content that we are searching, in faith, after God’s momentary will for our lives.
God will lead us, each second, each minute, each hour, each day, and through all our days, as long as the crisis lasts. And when we are through the crisis, we will praise God’s faithfulness to carry us through when we truly had no belief in ourselves—but we believed in him.
Faith is the only productive way of dealing with the crisis, for faith alone gives us the ability to take the next step when our hope is gone.
God made faith as a tool for life in a world we often feel lost in. No matter how lost, tormented, hemmed-in, or numb we feel, God is there through the faith-force inside us, giving us momentary direction, and just enough confidence to take the next step.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

There’s No Shame In Depression

“There are wounds that never show on the body that are deeper and more hurtful than anything that bleeds.”
—Laurell K. Hamilton
The facts made known to us through the branch of existentialism explain our struggles. We are alive but for a short time, and whilst we lament that we will soon and certainly die, we often lament just as much that we are alive. These are truly dark realities. Those given to depressive episodes—a day, a few months, or indefinitely for some—know these realities intimately, and more. They have borne the brunt of truth (and many vicious non-truths) at full force.
Ever more do the depressed need God, but shame is inappropriate. The trouble is society has become adept at refusing to recognise what is patently in front of it.
And where we find ourselves sharply out of step from the social landscape we belong in, we begin to feel we do not belong. When we are forced to belong in a place we don’t feel we belong, our wellbeing turns south. We enter disease.
All this dissonance from within suggests we are at war—with ourselves. And if we explore the protagonists of the war, we may see one of the reasons for the conflict: an irreconcilable shame. It appears irreconcilable.
The Courage Involved In Living Depressed
Not that we propagate feeling depressed, because quite frankly there are far better ways to live, but we can appreciate the courage it takes to live in a depressed state. To live this way, to bear the load, to socialise when it hurts, and to trudge one day at a time; that is courage.
So where does shame fit?
It’s a lie of the enemy. This dark and mysterious dog is intentionally invisible. It growls and it snaps, yet we don’t really know what it looks like. All we know is how we feel.
There is no shame in being depressed, because it takes more courage to live this way than most think.
There is no shame in being depressed, as much of what depression is comes against us beyond our control. But we can deal with it the best we can, with the help available to us. And I suppose we can be thankful that be have access to much better treatment options than we used to.
There is no shame in being depressed, because if any other person had the personality and experiences we do they would react the same as us. All things being equal we have more in common with others than we ever realise.
There is no shame in being depressed.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Treading the Waters to Triumph

“God brings people into deep waters, not to drown them, but to cleanse them.”
—John Aughey
We can make anything we like out of the adversities of life but there are two outcomes that count. When we’ve had enough and we admit defeat, the waters roll over us and we are as good as drowned. We know this by our previous defeats. We know that angry encounters, when we could have showed some pluck, are pointless. But when we recognise, with faith, that God is carrying us through this torrent, to cleanse us and make us capable for the next thing, we endure for just another day.
This is not to deride our depression. Our lowliness has come for a reason—such that we will learn the way to fight. Fighting the good fight of the faith and not giving the devil a foothold are critical tactics; mindsets that deliver us time after time, as we persist.
Finding Room to Believe
Belief is incredibly important. Whatever we do to retain our belief, to keep trudging, we should do. And do and do and do.
Sometimes we need space. Sometimes we are beleaguered and fatigued from the length of the journey. We feel crowded and hemmed in. Frustration defines us, and the more it does the more frustrated we become. We claw for space. And we find a way. We find room to believe.
At the very bottom of the barrel everything seems desperate until we look up. It seems very dark at the bottom of that barrel—but our eyes head to the light. We know it’s there. It may be a long way to the top, but as the water level rises we rise with it, closer to the top, and our prospects look brighter. We are finding room to believe.
When we are audacious enough to believe we can find room to believe the door opens. And though that door may be closed just now, we just never know what it will take to open it. When we find that thing that opens the door it will make us laugh! How could we not know? At that point it’s irrelevant. We are free and clear.
Triumph Needs a Travesty
Only because of the travesties of life is there a necessity for triumph.
What sounds like a cliché is nevertheless absolutely true. Victory has no place where there is no risk of defeat. If not for the cross where would be the resurrection? If it wasn’t for the sacrifice of Jesus, how would we know the depth of the Father’s love?
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Friday, August 24, 2012

At the End Comes the Beginning

“Rock bottom is good solid ground, and a dead end street is just a place to turn around.”
—Buddy Buie & J.R. Cobb, Rock Bottom
Grace is not as easy as some presuppose,
The pilgrimage of life often has us coming to blows,
No matter how much we try and pretend,
A struggle continues until we mandate an end.
Complications and mystifications are our lot,
More and more bother is our spot,
Again and again we try and pretend,
But in influencing these things we cannot bend.
Then comes the time to suddenly submit,
The direction of our effort with which to pit,
Now it approaches—the appearance of the end,
God’s grace must subsist and does now extend.
Oh the charity, oh the bliss,
The signs of the end we cannot now dismiss,
Such a thing is uncompromisingly true,
And now it’s bringing a long-awaited ‘new’.
Ends precede beginnings. Sure, it occurs the other way around as well, but when we have had enough, the end has come and a new beginning comes into sight.
And what type of endings are we talking about?
Perhaps it is something that started off well but now causes pain; it promised much but delivered little; the pain involved in changing has become more inviting than the pain of staying as we are.
Rock bottoms are salubrious for the simple fact that the agony energises within us the drive to break out. One moment in the roasting abyss can convert us to an about-face.
A Common Case Study
There are thousands upon thousands of this type of story every day. A man or a woman, having struggled with depressive thoughts and anxious feelings, decides, at a particularly low moment, that they have had enough. They are at a crossroad. This crossroad often takes a person to either self-harm or to therapeutic help. And the latter outcome, thankfully, comes to pass. They go to their doctor to get help. They realise they are at an intolerable end. They fix their purpose on this hopeful beginning.
It’s no different with addiction, backsliding, or grief. We have the choice at that ‘rock bottom’—to continue in hell, or turn 180 degrees toward life. And depending on what we are dealing with—grief particularly—further regressions may be inevitable. But we have opportunities to rebound each and every day.
Rock bottoms are endings that can catapult us on a fresh, life-giving trajectory.
They are a cause for later celebration. All that stands in our way is a vision and hard work. This is universally achievable. A new direction has its genesis immediately upon an about-face.
Wherever there is vision for a better tomorrow there is hope.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.