Sunday, March 31, 2013

Where In the Heart Does the Hurt Draw Near From?

Hurts are dangerous things that affect us all. Because we need acceptance—one of a human’s innate needs—we will be stung by varying forms of rejection. Much of the time the knowledge of our hurts is blocked, or we deny them, or they play on our hearts too much.
Hurts tend to be buried too far to access or they are dredged up with unfortunate ease.
Of course, the antithesis of hurt is healing and we all need to be healed—both in a momentary context as well as in the context within succeeding moments throughout the rest of our lives. We are never beyond being hurt.
But there is a vital truth we must know if we are to be healed—if we are to approach healing, knowing that many cannot or will not do such a thing.
This vital truth is simply having the courage to own and honour the truth about ourselves—the ugly, despicable, irretrievable, regretful, and untameable secrets.
But there is a problem we have in doing that: how are we to approach such horrible truths about ourselves and own them and honour them if we are either scared of those realities or as they seem too much work for the reward offered?
Many people sidestep the opportunities at healing to remain in a life of relative spiritual death because it is too uncomfortable to change and too comfortable to remain the way they are.
Enter God.
God creates the miracle of healing—a miracle we may not believe is possible—when we truly own and honour the truth about ourselves; those things we cannot change but have to accept, if we are to move on to the fullness we are anointed by God to enjoy.
God does this inexplicably, unfathomably, but, just as much, irrefutably.
As soon as we approach the truths in our lives and we don’t run, but we stand there and face them, by honouring these truths, God honours us by a miracle of healing.
Running is forlorn. It is listening to the devil and taking heed of erroneous advice; very often what our minds are up to is a delusion of doubt, of seclusion within those sinister truths, and of self-protection, when to run actually exposes the self, and doesn’t protect it.
Our job in life—in the emotional and relational rub of life—is to detect where in our hearts our hurts draw near from. Where do they speak to us and cause us to fear? Why is it so? And why are we to fear this fear?
Openness to truth usually reveals it to not contain much fear at all, though we should never downplay the seriousness of our hurts. The seriousness of our hurts and the action of approaching them are two separate things. The former will cause much sorrow, anger and grief, but the latter actually helps to soothe the sorrow, anger and grief.
As soon as we approach the truths in our lives and we don’t run, but we stand there and face them, by honouring these truths, God honours us by a miracle of healing. Facing life full frontal, without fears for the past or trepidation in the present, is the way to the abundant life everyone is called to enjoy.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Easiest Way to Sublime Joy

“Be willing to be a beginner every single morning.”
Meister Eckhart (1259–1327)
The dearest lesson in all life is the simplest one.
What if we were to take the advice above, literally, every single morning? Furthermore, what if we were to instigate this approach—reflecting the freedom of being a beginner—every lunchtime? And why would we stop there? Why not apply it every evening, as well?
We still may not get it. Some may say, “I am paid to be the professional. How am I possibly to be a beginner?” Every good question is worth a good answer. But many good questions miss the point.
The key point of life is our approach to it in humility. In humbleness we can always be a beginner, no matter how expert we are expected to be. In our interactions with people we gain the best portion of credibility when we approach the task and the people themselves with a healthy dose of authenticity verging on instinctive realness, especially in our mistakes.
The beginner is always learning, and we would be right if we were to determine life as a learning ground—because it is.
Notwithstanding all the other advantages in being a beginner in our minds and hearts, there is a symphony of joy we experience in being free of a burdensome load in always having to know it all.
Dealing with Our Pride Is Approaching Joy
When we can grapple with being a beginner we have no need to wrestle with protecting ourselves against embarrassment and shame for failing in life. The beginner almost takes pride in failing, because it is an opportunity for learning. The beginner knows they are constantly learning, because they are real in their failure. The beginner knows the courage in being real.
Life experienced this way means that there is very little to lose in terms of protecting a façade. Especially in churches we typically wear our façades on Sundays and we protect them well.
But God has something far better in mind.
We are better to approach life without such a façade. Being real from within ourselves, we can afford to be a beginner. And there are so many fields of endeavour in life where we will always be a beginner. But even as an authority, we can learn the simplest of things from the novice.
As there is wisdom in beginning, there is also wisdom in being a beginner. But far more of the advantage is the reconciliation of joy.
When we have no longer have any reason to protect our pride, not being fearful of being found out as a phoney, we have more peace and, therefore, more joy about us.
There is strength in admitting we don’t know, because we abide by the truth. When we no longer need to hold up a façade, the door to joy is opened to us. The easiest way to sublime joy is to be real with ourselves regarding what we know and don’t know. It is abiding to the truth that propels us to myriad virtue, and, in this case, to joy.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Never Doubting the Path Leads Somewhere

Being troubled is a common human state. And doubting the path we are on, or at least the path we have found ourselves on, is so natural and normal. We really do not trust God as much as we are told we should. Then finally the truth bares itself: we are eventually led to a good place as we continually repel the desire to turn back because of our doubting.
Our thinking is a forwards-backwards land of operations in the cognitive realm.
Doubting becomes us, and generally at the least helpful at times. But doubting has a role in testing the tenacity of our willingness to go on; to continue on the path we feel we must choose to follow. Perhaps God inflects our doubting in such a way as to force us to reconsider our underpinning motives.
Doubting is reason enough to review what we are about. Are we serious?
In this way, we can see the valuable role that doubting plays. It’s as if God was saying, “Are you really serious about this, and, if so, how serious are you?”
There is almost a sense of compulsion that should lead us to recommit to the journey God has placed us on. On this very track that is our destiny, God gives us ample opportunity to choose for it or not. It’s our life and God wants us to own it. God gives us plenty of opportunity to choose for it, to plan past regret, and to right the wrongs we make of it. Glory to God that we are given millions of opportunities to turn back.
The truth is the path leads somewhere; not just anywhere, but somewhere.
And faith it is that leads us to that place.
Burning with Purpose and Intention
Like the launch of a space shuttle—a series of projects and operations so intricately planned—we are on the countdown of our lives. When we see life as a journey toward a destination—to reach somewhere—we have purpose about us and the intention is focused. As the engines propelling us on our way rev up, they push us through the doubting, as if doubting were a sound barrier, as we continually monitor the status of our ship on every step of the journey.
Life is a journey and we gather purpose by the intention to travel.
There is no purpose in not travelling. But when we are committed to travelling, even on the bumpiest of rides, when doubting is stricken with threat, we have enough intention to blast through the doubting.
We are on the very journeys of our lives. We ought to never doubt our lives are leading somewhere good. As we push past our doubting in faith we go on in our journey toward the blessing that God has destined for us. God bids us: “Keep going!”
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Embracing Life’s Number One Task

“Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfil the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.”
Dr. Viktor Frankl (1905–1997)
Without any shred of doubt life is not life automatically because we live and breathe. No, life has a spiritual quality that only some partake in. Many take the common road, which is laden with the appearance of ease, but is indeed tougher than it needs to be. Few take the road less travelled. And few of the many actually see the advantage in how the few live.
God gives people exactly what they want. Where a person insists on their own way, God insists they should have that freedom—a freedom to choose for bondage.
Life’s number one task—the chief objective—is to assess one’s way and make proper passage, one decision at a time. We all have our problems, as we all have our tasks. Assessment is the first step in making a plan and executing it. By our assessment of things we determine the passage we are to take, and then all we need is courage to act.
It Is a Hard Road to the Easy Life
We live in a life of opposite parameters. We act in one way and we inevitably redeem what we sow, but we are quickly fooled by impure motives.
When we seek the easy life, we end up with a hard life. Yet, when it is our principle to live diligently and morally, which is to the many the longer and harder life, we set ourselves up in the reliability of blessing.
When we learn the lesson that taking responsibility for our lives is blessed, we open a hard gate to the easier life. Living for God may not be the easy life, but it is easier than living without God, simply for the fact that living for the truth provides peace And true freedom, but a freedom that is exacted by a commitment to pay the price that life requires us to pay.
Life is life and there is no better way than to receive.
When we meet the truth of life, and we commit to life beyond our anxious fears, we allow the truth to speak power into our lives. When we live in a way that meets our problems and wrangles with our tasks, not shirking our responsibilities, we are ready to be blessed by God.
Our problems and our tasks are our responsibility. We cannot delegate this responsibility. How great it is, then, that we have a compassionate God who gives us not what we cannot handle. Our destiny is to execute our responsibilities; to take the road less travelled.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Not Giving Up When You Think You Must

There comes a time in all our lives when the pace of life overwhelms us to a point where we either consider or decide upon giving up.
Whether life is structured in such a way as to be chaotic or not is, in some ways, beside the point. We can decide to restructure our lives where we have control, but where we don’t, we need to make the best of a poor situation. And poor prospects diminish and trash our hope.
Apart from being assertive enough to say no to things that we are committed to but we don’t need to do, we need encouragement to not give up when we think we must. Such a challenge is the material of faith.
Drawing upon Wisdom and Courage
Just as it takes wisdom to discern what we are purposed to do and what we aren’t, it takes courage to say no, on the one hand, and to keep stepping forward on the other.
Once our decisions are made all we need is the courage to act and continue acting.
If we are committed to the things we are troubled by, our commitment will convict our courage, and we will have the strength, somehow, to continue on. Others may see this strength and marvel.
Drawing upon wisdom and courage is always inspirational to others, but we ourselves may not notice because we are too close to stressful matters.
If we can pray, asking God for the courage to act and continue acting, God will give us the faith to do just that. By praying we have the opportunity of surrender; to give ourselves over, in a fresh way, to God. Indeed, the very act of praying is an act of surrender, because we are communing and in communing we admit we cannot do this thing on our own.
That can be an enormous relief.
Drawing upon wisdom and courage is sharing our plight with God and trusted others, with the intent of listening for the later mode of application.
We seek help so we can act, and in acting we derive empowerment.
The Moment God Comes Through for Us
About the time we are to break, and perhaps then some, the Lord comes through for us, often in the most surprising of ways.
It is a biblical truth (Psalm 30:5) that we may be so forlorn that we might weep ourselves to sleep, and then be surprised to experience a spiritual relief upon awakening.
When we hold out for God in our faith, we give the Lord of our lives ample opportunity to intervene. We don’t hold God to ransom, and God will not rescue us before time. But we are to be encouraged that God comes to deliver us just in time. We know this as we look back and consider his faithfulness.
When things get the point of overwhelming us there is nothing better than faith. Faith takes us just one more step, and then one more, and so on. With faith we can keep going, but wisdom inevitably tells us when to stop. We need the right balance of faith and wisdom.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Overcoming Compassion Fatigue

“Bodily haste and exertion usually leave our thoughts very much at the mercy of our feelings and imagination.”
Mary Ann Evans (a.k.a. George Eliot, 1819–1880)
Besides the technical term, which is often used in the caring professions for carers who burn out, we can see compassion fatigue in everyday life through the mode of supposedly caring too much; if at all that is the reality.
It is a fact, however, that so many of us care so much about life that we constantly push ourselves to the point of burnout, having been drawn in to the intricate web and commotion of myriad activity. It is certainly the anxiously attached that are most prone; those high achievers who desperately seek a sense of belonging. It seems an irony, then, to understand that those who care most are those who try the hardest and end up pushed beyond their capacity.
Those who care most are most susceptible to compassion fatigue.
It helps to understand that we, the carers in society, need to protect and provide for our mental process, because it underpins our emotional process, which supports our spiritual process.
Understanding the Importance of Mental Process
As the quote above alludes to, the denigration into fatigue of our thought process means we end up vulnerable to our feelings and imagination. When fatigue is matched with the imagination it is never a positive result. The imagination coveted by fatigue paints by broad brushstrokes of fear. Instead of our thoughts influencing our feelings, which is the way it should be in retaining emotional control, our feelings begin to ride roughshod over our thoughts. Our thinking sinks into the mode of dilemma.
Our mental process is the clue to our emotional process.
We can lose control mentally for instances here and there without much of a problem; without losing control emotionally. But if we push too hard, and, being out of control mentally is more the rule than the exception, we learn to accept operating out of chaos. Things steadily get worse.
We have allowed our thinking processes to be compromised so much our feelings then come to the fore—through anger, pity, complaint, etc—and we have learned to stop being so disciplined in our thinking.
Our emotional world hinges on our mental world, just as our spiritual world hinges on our emotional world.
If we have adequate scope regarding our thinking processes, and we don’t feel pressured emotionally, we have a much better chance of staying in control and averting the disaster of compassion fatigue.
It’s not a bad thing to care; indeed it is good. But we are useless to the people we care for if we get burned-out. We are much better off working within known limits, yes, even at the risk of disappointing people.
A safe thought life provides for a stable emotional life, just as a stable emotional life provides a meaningful and fulfilling spiritual life. The best way to battle compassion fatigue (supposedly, caring too much) is to restore balance to the thought life.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Meat Pies, Sex and Relationships

“Men don’t know how to be men. Many men fear that they are unsafe.”
Aaron Bradfield
“To be a spiritually healthy person you have to be an emotionally healthy person.”
Rob Furlong
What happens when you get 45 men in a room with a pastor and a counsellor to discuss sex and relationships over a meat pie and a can of Coke?
Answer: a lot of education, connecting fellowship, and encouragement.
What follows are some of my thoughts from the notes taken from a Sex and Relationships “Real Men Pie Night.”
Sex is sacred and pornography devalues what is sacrosanct.
The commonest problem men are dealing with is pornography, and, to a lesser extent, burnout—both physical and spiritual. Because pornography is so accessible these days—one mouse click away—more and more men (and more women for that matter) are becoming entrapped by pornography.
Among the many dangers involved in pornography is the pressure it places on men’s partners; women who feel under pressure to look like and perform like the porn stars.
It’s amazing how many Christian men struggle with pornography, but almost every one of them believes they are alone. It is the oldest lie of the devil to isolate us in such ways.
Interestingly, pornography is not so much about sex, as it’s much more to do with our own story—what we, as persons, have not recovered from. Dealing with our pasts—being honest about them with trusted others—helps to heal us.
Dealing with the problem of pornography probably best begins with therapy, and possibly group therapy. The best thing we can do, in our struggle with pornography, is to be open and honest with a trusted friend, and ask that friend to pray with us.
Openness and honesty are the keys.
The only real exception to complete openness and honesty is timing and wisdom with our wives in declaring our problems. Our wives are not to be burdened with being our accountability partners. A bit like Step 9 of AA’s 12-Step Program, where, amends is to be made, it defeats the purpose if our amends injures the person we want God to heal. We must pray for wisdom and discernment about the details. But we should tell them, somehow, we have a problem that we’re dealing with.
Men’s and Women’s Identities
Just as the quote at top says, men have learned to lose confidence in their male identity. We may struggle with viewing ourselves as on the one hand, dangerous, but, on the other hand, soft. Our lack of male identity is often caused at a societal level, but it was learned and is reinforced all the more from our families of origin.
Men’s overriding psychology about their masculinity is about, “do I have what it takes?” Women’s overriding psychology about their femininity is about, “do you (my man) delight in me.”
If the man’s identity is to treasure his woman, that he makes her the object of his affection, he bridges the gap between him and her.
The Sex Relationship
It’s critically important for men to understand that their women need to be treated with the utmost respect. If a woman isn’t respected she may be characteristically reviled by the thought of sex. Men tend to not understand this and wonder why they have unfulfilling sexual relationships. The sexual relationship between a married couple is a good representation of the overall relationship. If the sex is good it probably means that the woman feels safe, cherished, and respected in the marriage.
A man cannot grow in intimacy with his wife unless he is prepared to devote his whole sexual life to her alone. He must be not just physically faithful, but mentally and spiritually faithful as well. Intimacy ignites passion as a slow but reliable flame.
Where there is a disparity between the libidos of a husband and his wife, where characteristically the husband’s sexual drive is higher, he may be able to engage sexually with her present in ways that she doesn’t need to be actively involved.
But wherever a wife is involved sexually the husband needs to pay caring attention to what leads up to the sexual event. Sex, at least for the woman, begins in the brain. Women are not interested in sex when the relationship is poor. It is up to men, and the onus is on us, to build intimacy with our wives.
Furthermore, it may be a stretch for a man to understand what it might be like to have a body that is sexually penetrated. A man finds it difficult to imagine how vulnerable a woman must be to allow a man to enter into her body. The sex act needs to be creative, not rushed, and not mechanical.
As men we need to treat our women as they should be treated: with the utmost respect.
Lastly, it is of real value for a woman to understand that a man feels rejected deeper down when he isn’t getting sex. But the first onus is on the man to ensure his wife is happy; that she is being loved and respected unconditionally.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.
Acknowledgement: a special vote of thanks and gratitude for Pastors Rob Furlong and Aaron Bradfield, who were a beautifully complementary team as part of an expert panel providing the above wisdom, and to Pastor Anthony Palmieri for his “Pie Night” vision.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

How God Rebuilds a Broken Man

What God rebuilds becomes literally a new creation.
Never condemn a man who has undergone an anointing of transformation—God’s very hand is on his life.
It is amazing how people will continue to remember the old man—the person caught inexorably in the web of their sin. What they had become defined for continues to define them, for some people, for the rest of their lives. It is important that the new man moves on and away from such people, for such people are not surrendered to God as far as he in his life is concerned. They can do him no benefit.
We need to understand that God is in the business of rebuilding and reshaping lives—of redeeming the worst of us—and we all have that ‘worst’ side that needs to be dealt with.
The Process of True Conviction
Where a man, or a woman for that matter, truly gives their life toward true conviction—to proclaim themselves guilty as charged, and are sent bent upon repentance—they will be rebuilt.
God’s miraculous nature pours into such a life through the Holy Spirit.
Everything is turned upside down in the grandest refurbishment at soul scale. What was once so hard now becomes hardly ever easier. And what was so simple before—the entrapping temptation or the preponderance of vice—now becomes hard because of aversion. The flow of life is now with God. Reversing this is not an option.
True conviction drives a man to change. Where there is true conviction God will not stop in the pouring out of his Spirit into that life. Where conviction melds with the Presence of God there we have a divine union toward change.
True life change is about true conviction of heart towards that change. What might have been tried a thousand times beforehand, without success, now becomes a reality.
The man who is truly convicted by the Spirit of God is made a new creation overnight. And God will not have that man—a man of God—condemned.
Are we to dispute with God?
Let’s Be Careful Who We Condemn
God gives us no role to condemn anyone. It is a trick of the devil to get into that territory. No matter the history with anyone, God can purge that history, and make that person a new one, wiping the slate clean!
The more open we are to the miracles of God the more we will see them. And the most resplendent of miracles are those that occur in a person, or within a relationship.
What God rebuilds let no man or woman split asunder.
What God rebuilds becomes literally a new creation. With true conviction by the person concerned, God can do anything in anyone’s life. God can rebuild anyone. Indeed, this is what God does—and has always, from eternity to eternity.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Be Strong and Courageous

“Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”
Joshua 1:9 (NRSV)
Jump from the burning building to a certain death or die from fire—not much of a choice in living your last moments. Courage can be a thing of life and death. What else could prevail?
As relatives and friends consider the obvious stark gravity that was laid before the victims of the September 11, 2001, attacks they are compelled to redefine courage by those terms. When death is imminent there’s no going through the motions.
Courage comes to the fore when adrenaline shoots through the veins of crisis. With no choice, the geographically forlorn resolved to do, that horrible day, what we cannot even contemplate. Each one is a hero or heroine.
Do Not Veer Off Course
The central theme of early Joshua is obedience as an ally to conquest. If the nation of Israel were prepared to obey the law, not turning to the left or the right of it, the Lord would bless their strength and courage.
Journeying through this book on the way to the Promised Land we find that strength and courage were absolute necessities. Not many of us could understand the clear and present danger in their context. Our lives are not typically threatened daily, and our conquests are generally mild and self-apportioned. We get away, generally, with disobedience.
Courage and obedience come together to the blessing of our plans in the Lord.
But beyond the blessing, courage and obedience are still found entwined.
Our September 11 heroes and heroines found themselves in this territory. Obedience had one line. No other choice remained. Their courage, for simply being in that moment, will live on as an indelible legacy.
The Provision of Courage – A Fact Of Life
No true hero is found that way by intention.
Heroism is commonly found in the shrivelling fearful, but those without a choice; the way of obedience made plain and inevitable. This is why most people who are tagged “heroes” are that way reluctantly so. At the time they had no choice, or they made a split-second choice. They obeyed their instinct.
Courage comes as a necessity to get through the most impossible situations life can deliver. Let us not assume that because we are safely cocooned in our present lives that life will remain that way.
If we were thrust into a situation where alternatives to courage were to all but dry up, the Lord would then provide the courage to get through. Let us be thankful if we’ve never experienced this, not fearful for the possibility of it in the future, and prepared in any case.
We will have the capacity for strength and courage when we need it. God will see to that. At these times, obedience is predictable but, nonetheless, commendable. We should revere the memory of the September 11 heroes and heroines who epitomised unenviable courage and obedience.
Strength and courage form an unconquerable alliance with the Presence of God. God’s Presence is with us always, and, when we add our strength and courage to continue onward, we have everything we need to faithfully endure.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Choices for Grief, Gratitude and Grace

“The highest tribute to the dead is not grief but gratitude.”
— Thornton Wilder (1897–1975)
I went to visit with a 91-year-old lady in a palliative care wing of a hostel for the elderly recently. When I reported to reception, an administration staff member, Morag, greeted me and, in a second, the colour drained from her face. “Mrs. Jones passed away earlier this hour,” she said, bringing me the news and monitoring my reaction at the same time. (I had called by telephone a few days earlier, so we were mutually aware that I was now literally “too late.”)
I was granted access to Mrs. Jones’s room, so I could pray with the body and thank God for Mrs. Jones’s life. I prayed also for the family; the only members of which I knew had to come from interstate. I was grateful I could pray. Afterwards, as I drove back to the church, I thought about her life, her probable exposure to the Depression, World War II, and the fact that, without much doubt, she would have lost family and friends to that six-year conflict, and endured the post-war rationing period.
Even though I had never met Mrs. Jones before, I realised God was allowing me to grieve her loss, because I was thankful for her life and allowed God to spread within my mind some vision for what Mrs. Jones’s life may probably have become.
There are two separate functions within recovery from loss—grief and gratitude.
For those who grieve, they vacillate in their loss from grief to gratitude, and back and forth again—if they are in touch with God, for God allows each of us a brief respite, where we journey with him in the truth of our loss, but with shreds of thankfulness in our hearts.
Grief and gratitude can coexist; they often do.
Those who grieve may be confused by these overwhelming emotions and stability of mind and heart may seem a distant objective. Still, through the stormy seas of the present season we sail, in a little boat called “Intrepid,” and though we are tossed and turned as if in a washing machine, we do come out washed on the other side.
Allowing Both States – Grief and Gratitude
Allowing both states of grief and gratitude to come and go as they wish is the maturity of grace over us.
We do need encouragement, and through both there is encouragement.
In grief we are encouraged that we are doing the work required of us in forging the new identity. Though it is excruciating, there is a great deal of growth we are embracing in sitting with, and allowing, our grief.
In gratitude, these moments of respite, we learn to draw on the comfort of God, as we realise how special it is to have these memories; how special it was to have had these experiences.
In loss, both grief and gratitude come and go as if through a swinging door. Such instability may leave us confused, even overwhelmed. But God’s grace can help us as we allow grief and gratitude their ‘visiting’ times. There is a reliable semblance of peace through God’s grace in our grief.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.
Postscript: Mrs. Jones’s real name has been kept private.