Monday, July 16, 2018

Responsibility makes and breaks Relationships

Photo by Benjamin Davies on Unsplash


One of the key theological patterns in the book of Acts, I find, is that of repentance preceding the receipt of the Spirit which precedes the revival of an individual’s soul.

Indeed, corporate revival relies on the same concept: repentance of the community that precedes the blessing of God’s Holy Spirit on that community which precedes a revival within the culture of the community. Revival relies on repentance.
There is never revival
without repentance.
But what is repentance other than taking responsibility? First and foremost, owning our personal sin.
In recent months I’ve come to learn much more about the patterns in abuse, as God continues to call and equip me to minister in that direction.
The hallmark difference between someone who could abuse versus someone who does abuse is the taking of responsibility. The perpetrator of the abuse avoids taking responsibility at every turn, and at every cost, and it is debatable whether they genuinely believe they cannot be responsible for abuse, or whether they intentionally subvert any accusations against them. The former is evidence of spiritual deception. The latter is evidence of sociopathy.
The well-rounded conscience receives negative feedback and weighs it for truth, even when it hurts, because negative feedback generally does hurt, and because negative feedback is generally meant well. But the damaged conscience, the seared conscience, has lost the capacity for introspection, or simply insists on not going there.
The simplest way of saying it is this: the most obvious indicator of an unsafe person is their incapacity for taking responsibility. If their default is to blame others for things they alone have control over, there is a big problem. If this attitude isn’t addressed, if there is no hope for repentance, it’s only a matter of time before they get themselves into trouble and others along with it.
Relationships fail for the lack of responsibility.
Unsafe people do not take responsibility.
Safe people, on the other hand,
walk humbly [Christians, with God],
by being receptive to negative feedback.
I know there have been times when I’ve been weak, where I have been susceptible to resisting and at times refusing negative feedback, and it has always harmed me, others, and the relationships in view. Nothing good comes from one party or both refusing to take responsibility.
The key task of life is to
discern well what we are responsible for,
and to take that responsibility.
Taking responsibility is God’s decree for our lives,
because relationship is the imperative of our lives.
Sometimes we can take too much responsibility, and provided we don’t ‘enable’ an unsafe person we’re in relationship with (who does not take their responsibility well), it generally doesn’t cause much harm, and it is generally very good for us, because God sees the humility in a person living for peace and blesses them for loving others.
But taking too much responsibility when the unsafe person cannot or will not take theirs just propagates the pattern of co-dependence and abuse. The pattern begs to be broken.
Repentance, we should know, is not a once-in-a-lifetime event. Neither is salvation, because there is a fruit attached. The sign we are saved in the Kingdom of God is the fruit we bear. There must be signs of ongoing repentance and fruitfulness.
There must be signs of an ongoing ability
to respond well in our lives.
And the blessing we receive in taking responsibility is we take control of everything we can control, and we surrender control for everything that is beyond our control. And that is wisdom.
What sets those apart who take responsibility? The ability to be honest. Responsibility is the ability to respond appropriately to the truth.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

What the Father wants for His daughter

On a recent night, where as a family we gathered to say goodbye to a daughter moving to the other side of the country, it struck me just what does the Father feel for His daughter. Yes, this is not really about me as a father to my daughters, but it is a pondering into what the Father must want for His daughter.
I think about what I want for my three daughters; for them not only to be responsible adults and loving and respectful partners, but to be safe and respected and loved and cherished by the men in their lives; by all men in society — and all women.
As a man I very well know how men think and how they feel and the challenges that a man faces simply in treating women with the respect they deserve; that all humanity deserves. I know as a pastor, a counsellor, and as a chaplain just how far I have fallen short in my thoughts and feelings and actions, as a man I mean.
I rationalised that, even in endeavouring to live a godly life, I still struggle to attain to the standards of thought, feeling, and action that I would like to meet. I am so fortunate that the women close to me have been gracious in understanding that whilst my intent reveals potential, my deployment is occasionally awry.
In recent days I’ve seen attacks on feminism as if every male who speaks up for females in society has fallen for some trick. These, as a response to almost global support for viral videos deploring violence against women. These men and women against ‘feminism’ are deluded. Of course, violence against anyone is unacceptable, and women are not immune from being violent, but men own the stake in how to move forward if the world has any hope beyond violence.
I find it a ridiculous argument that men denounce women’s rights to safety when they use an aggression cloaked in all sorts of vile devices, including inappropriate humour that is supposed to be funny but is just simply disgusting. And weak women join in. Some people are beyond loving anyone.
What must the Father want for His daughter?
Surely, he wants His daughter to be treated
as if she is a princess. Because she is a princess.
Does a man lose anything
for treating a woman like a princess?
Where has the chivalry gone that says,
‘I choose to treat you as beautiful for who you are.’
Every father worthy of being called a father should want goodness and favour for his daughter. And that is just the earthly father. How much more does the Heavenly Father want that for His daughter? Of course, we can ask what the Father wants for his son, and the Father must want his son to prosper as the protector of life, and to revere the Father’s glory in the women about him.
To be properly egalitarian, I think it’s crucial
we get the gender differences right.
As the father of three daughters, having seen them interact with the men close to them, having seen them interact with me, I know that it is not their nature to abuse men. They follow their men, always desiring their men to lead by way of respect and protection. I know few women who would be remotely capable of abusing men for the want of it. Sure, I have seen women who are capable of abusing men, and I wonder what role men have played in the development of the women in question. Men are not blameless.
The Father wants the best for His daughter.
The Father wants His daughter to be safe. The Father requires that His daughter be loved by being respected. The Father wishes no fear against His daughter. The Father seeks that His daughter would flourish. The Father is a gentle nurturer. And the Father promises to travel with His daughter.
And if we care anything about God
we ought to do His will.

Friday, July 13, 2018

The peace you seek in a warring world

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash
Spend any time watching social media and you soon discover that the world seems to be going crazy.
There are sides in everything. Politics has its left and right. Church has its fundamentals and liberals. There are feminists and misogynists. Pro-lifers and those for pro-choice. Those for and against same-sex marriage. People who believe in euthanasia and those who don’t. This article is nothing about any of these issues.
It’s about the peace you seek amid a warring world.
Perhaps you are tired of the constant war of words.
Maybe you cannot bear conflict,
but you also cannot let it exist.
Social media is an unprecedented public square. Because, if you’re reading this you’re most likely connected to social media and will not be able to escape many kinds of upsetting discussions.
But it isn’t just social media that embroils us in disgust for how people treat each other, and how they treat us if we choose to speak up, it’s prevalent in the real face-to-face world too. Sometimes we share a view without considering what others might think and end up upsetting them or becoming upset ourselves. From time to time there are events that sweep us away on a wearying tide of grief simply because we didn’t see conflict coming.
Quickly emotions boil, and just as reputations that are built over 20 years are destroyed in five seconds, skewed emotions in perilous moments lay once-committed relationships waste.
Suddenly a wedge is driven deeply into the heart of persons who once loved each other so much.
Is there a way to avoid all this? Is there a wisdom we can deploy that helps us circumvent disaster?
There is, but it has to be God’s way. This peacemaking way, that not everybody can agree with is the way. It’s only those who are committed to war who hate the peacemaking way.
But love superintendents everything.
It has been said…
‘If someone treats you bad,
just remember that there is
something wrong with them, not you.
Normal people don’t go around
destroying other people.’
It is worthwhile remembering that whilst this adage fits, it’s no good if we hold to it, yet others experience us as being destructive toward them. We cannot be seekers of peace for ourselves yet destroyers of others.
Peace for ourselves requires we achieve peace with others.
It is hard to live at peace with ourselves if we’re warring with others. Yet at the same time it is a wise thing to protect ourselves from the trauma others would inflict on us.
How do we live at peace in this world that seems to be more-and-more violent? We don’t need to engage in the fight. We don’t need to have our say. We can pray; for the right time and opportunity to speak peace; compelling words of wisdom in any age; in the meantime, acceptance for what we cannot change at present.
If we insist that no one can fight us,
no one can fight us.
We can say with the peaceful strength of joy,
no one can assail us
as we assail nobody.
If we insist that ours is to be a joyful presence,
our influence is peacefully pervasive.
We can aim to deliver a special kind of love to those who are full of hate;
… kindness of heart for vitriol of tongue;
… a steady mind with eyes of life for the angry heart bent on maiming;
… a poise of spirit resilient with Christ’s hope for the devil’s despair in a person bitter beyond redemption.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

When God calls you Pastor

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

It was a spring day in September 2004, and funnily enough, I was on a course for safety auditors, which is the kind of course that is steeped in detecting compliance within management practices. There is almost nothing in it that connects to the deep spirituality of being called by God, by name, by designation, by vocation, by the words placed on my soul that very day.
‘I’m calling you out of all of this,’ said God the Holy Spirit, even as I recognised that I was no longer fit for working in this world. Don’t worry, I was very good at it. But competence doesn’t always correlate with passion. In a stimulating career full of promise and a great salary, I felt as if I were dying. Enter the process of training.
God had said that day
that He would breathe life into me
in the area within which
He had brought me to life.
Having fallen in love with the Lord, He was calling me into an area of work connected with that love.
In God’s mercy He recognised that, in allowing me to be broken by the circumstances of a grief that turned my life upside down in so many ways, it was His Presence, agency, and healing that meant I could do little else.
There is something humbling, and indeed very scary, in knowing that you can only do one thing; that one thing meant anything other than directly serving God quickly became thoroughly irrelevant. I became a Levite in a short period of time.
It’s scary, because if you can’t do
the only thing you can do,
where does that leave you?
For a brief time in 2016 I faced this prospect. I know I got greyer in this period of my life; the worst year ever. It was for my good, however, to be placed in such a hotbed for growth as God temporarily reconfigured my vocational goals.
It’s one thing to say you are more than what you do, but this does not account for a calling on your life that God gives, and only from the perspective of two years on can I say that the torment-of-identity that came had less to do with insecurity (though I did learn a lot about my insecurity during this time) and more to do with the identity God had placed in my heart in the first place.
I do not resent the fact that I had to suffer not only time out of ministry but also a period of complete character challenge and overhaul. It actually did me no harm (apart from the grey hairs). I do see the value in having my identity stripped away, because it showed me just how faithful God was to steady my spirit at the time, and to hold me aloft throughout the journey, and I was able to see this all the way through.
But as I look back over the 15 years,
to ask the question, ‘Was it worth it?’
is the wrong question to ask.
That sort of question only serves to take my thinking in the wrong direction. When it comes to serving God, it’s not about whether it’s worth it or not, and yet I have asked that question countless times. Every time I ran off the road into a ditch. A better question I’ve found, knowing that God has called me, and that He will finish the work in me if I keep going, is to ask God, ‘Lord, will you continue to teach me, and move within me for others, and keep showing me I’m in your will (or not) as I serve?’
Many times, so many, I’ve contemplated what it would be like to be burned-out, to experience disgrace, or to die suddenly; for the ministry to finish abruptly. Besides the pain any of this would cause, such a reality doesn’t scare me as much as it once did, even if the call on my life hasn’t changed one iota. I know that God can be served from any place and situation. But I would also say I’m more likely to serve these days ‘in fear and trembling’ (Philippians 2:12).
I don’t know about other pastors, and I can only surmise it is the same for most of us, but being a Pastor is not a job but a way of life. It would be rare that I make myself unavailable. Having learned the practice of protecting accessibility in my secular management career, a practice I became very good at, God’s call completely reverses such a practice, because that’s servanthood. Many modern day professional pastors may draw neat lines around their service, and it is wise to do so, but truly serving God means many times being available for people when we would prefer not to be. Of course, it quickly blurs into the unreasonable, and when family suffer the cost, I have learned more and more there is more to discern, including my hidden drives and motives. But there are countless times, almost daily, when I’ve said ‘yes’ to Jesus in serving someone when I would have preferred not to, and have known His blessing; His blessed Presence there with me, ‘in’ the moment of service.
I know there are many careers that require the same level of devotion, but serving God adds a nebulous degree of complexity, in that if we really don’t enjoy what we are doing, what do we do? Argue with God? I haven’t won too many of those. For me, being a pastor can feel more like a cross to bear than anything else I’ve done.
I do have this comfort though: I know that in not being able to do anything else, I am called of God, and whether it is worth it or not has come to be irrelevant.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

The quest for happiness is making you miserable

Image: Wang Xi on Unsplash.

This life is the only life we know, so we’re forgiven for wanting life on our terms — the terms of happiness.
God wants to give us far more than happiness, at least by the terms of happiness that we think will make us happy.
Happiness is a counterfeit
for the joy God has for us.
Then something happens one day that renders ‘happiness’ a pipedream that you must say goodbye to.
We call it grief;
loss that sends us spinning
a thousand revolutions a minute
into a barrelling despair.
The temerity of life that scourges us to the extent of casting us into a thousand pieces of derision. This is a place of soul where we experience something we never thought, as a human, we ever could or would.
We’re astounded as to just how deep suffering possibly is. From our own lived experience, we see that it is unfathomable. And compassion blossoms within us commensurate with the rate of us being overwhelmed; a dialogical encounter takes place — we know a suffering we detest, yet we see at the same time how it is opening the eyes of our heart. God is doing it.
I know grief — the experience of life of having lost it all to the point where it broke me — that experience coupled with God’s real felt Presence and a recovery program — forced me routinely into a place where I had no defence.
Every time I got up I felt I was smashed down, and yet I had the very real sense that God was for me and not against me. I could not procure such an understanding in my own mind or strength. It was a gift and I don’t know why I got it and others in my circumstances don’t. I know I was desperate for help. I know I could no longer do life on my own terms.
The terms of securing my own happiness
had failed me miserably.
I know it was a blessing in disguise
to feel completely beaten, yet be open to help.
Grief is the golden gateway
to the true experience of the Christian life,
and loss is the master key.
God’s Kingdom is an upside-down kingdom. It works through loss, not through success. The successful are forever prevented from the life the unfortunates could acquire in an instant. Adding Jesus to an already successful life makes a life seem a little more altruistic. Good. It feels good. But it fails because it’s a spirituality predicated on happiness; on the fleeting notion of prosperity, not on the eternal notion which commands transformation.
Transformation cannot happen without suffering loss,
so we ought not to resent loss, for it is opportunity.
I often pity the person who hasn’t yet suffered. When it does come, they won’t know what hit them! That was my reality at the tender age of 36, which is so fortunate, which I pity all the more children who suffer, for they’re not equipped developmentally. The Spirit of God is found in suffering, in grief, in (genuine) persecution, because it’s in these places we bellow for help in the hope it will come, and the longer we bellow without experiencing the help we so need, whilst striving valiantly to endure, the deeper God takes us into Himself. It is a remarkably consistent method God uses. Trust it.
The quest for happiness is making you miserable. It’s because you’re using God as a means to get something you’ve devised in your mind that you think will satisfy you; your dream, your vision, your plan. And God cannot give it to you against His own nature. Besides, what you think will satisfy you will never satisfy you.
God won’t be used. God will not allow us to use Him. But when we say, ‘God, use me in any small and insignificant way you wish,’ He blesses that heart in a spiritual way that enlivens virtue.
The priceless possessions in life are the spiritual possessions,
not the material possessions.
Suffering takes us directly to some of the most treasured items a human being could own: compassion, insight, awareness, regard, consideration, forbearance, and the heart to do loving kindness and the want to walk humbly.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Why does the abuser abuse?

Photo by Paola Chaaya on Unsplash
Here is a poignant question that rests awkwardly on many a victim’s heart.
“What is it about power that makes powerful people abuse it
without seeming to know that they’re abusing it?”
source of quoted question
We know that there are perpetrators of abuse that seem to revel in it. But much abuse occurs because the abuser thinks they’ve got a right to do what they do. It’s a deception. They’re deceived. And they will argue black and blue that they did it for good reasons. They don’t seem to have any understanding, or even want to understand, the impact of their behaviour.
Perhaps we can surmise that there is a reasonable explanation for the total ignorance in those who would abuse power, like hubris syndrome. Power that is held for a long time, that finds ongoing success, and has relative liberty; well, that power — hubris syndrome suggests — is dangerous. And key danger is a deficit develops: empathy tends to leak away from the successful person who earns power.
The more successful a person,
the more their empathy can leak.
Sustained success in any field is potentially dangerous because empathy — importantly, the capacity to empathise — can ebb away. It is the greatest of human tragedies when care takes a back seat with people who have power even over one life.
When Empathy Becomes Skill
How much worse is it that a leader can fake empathy — that a key part of the leadership performance is to ‘put on’ empathy when it will advantage them instead of wearing it everywhere they go. One is a manipulative spirit, coercing for self-gain, but perhaps under the guise of doing a common good; the other is a heart transformed and operated by God. One is saved for particular occasions to maximise positive emotional impact; the other is a way of life done not for the approval of men, but for the approval of God. One is the kind of thinking that is selectively deployed; the other is a way of thought that tends to always be thinking about others.
There are many professions as well of many kinds of people who are tempted to develop empathy as a skill. But empathy is a matter of the heart, and even though empathy can be faked, God is fooled by nobody. God inevitably catches up with those who fake or signal virtue.
What underlies a faked empathy is, ironically, narcissism. What looks like empathy isn’t always the case.
The Root of Narcissism
I can tell you from my studies into narcissism, that narcissists lack empathy, exploit people, and feel entitled to do it. Yet, we are all capable of being narcissistic, especially when we are tempted to gain something through using people. This explains why successful people are prone to abusing people; in every field of endeavour, a lot of work is involved in sustaining success. It never comes easily, and it’s always harder to sustain than we would ever think. The pressure to succeed tempts us to subvert an honourable ethic for the sort of power that can be gained furtively.
… narcissists lack empathy,
exploit people,
and feel entitled to do it.
None of us likes to be thought of or seen as narcissistic, and this especially applies to those who would abuse power. This probably explains why someone who would abuse power might be completely unconscious of it, not see it as an abuse, and even justify their behaviour.
If we will live accountable lives before God, our Lord will show us where we are tempted to blur into the kind of narcissistic attitude that potentially abuses people through the misuse of our power.
The person who denies their capacity for narcissism
is in danger of using narcissism to abuse.
We started with a poignant question that rests awkwardly on many a victim’s heart.
“What is it about power that makes powerful people abuse it
without seeming to know that they’re abusing it?”
source of quoted question
There is certainly the reality of hubris syndrome, but if we truly wish not to abuse others, and allow God to nurture empathy within us, then we will see our capacity to abuse people and situations possibly before, and even as, the abuse takes place. And when it does take place, hopefully, there will be an awareness that provides impetus for restitution via a suitably acceptable apology.
There is no substitute for being
accountable to God in everything we do.
Why does the abuser abuse?
… because they lack empathy.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Power, privilege and privation

Photo by Michael Milverton on Unsplash

We all have our childhood experiences, but for many forgotten ones, childhood trauma has left such an indelible mark on their psyches that they bear those marks of abuse everywhere they go, in everything they think, feeling through a heart that was damaged so long ago.
The world is a place of power for the few, privilege for the many, and privation for those lost ones society seems to care so little about. Don’t get me wrong, there are always advocacy groups prepared to fight the cause for the lost ones, but advocacy by its nature is reactive; the harm has always already been done, or is being done, or both.
We each have a role in life
in terms of power, privilege, and privation.
The powerful enjoy privilege and so often have caused privation, not that every powerful person acts in a privileged way or causes privation. Many deal with power and privilege responsibly, but so many don’t. There is a case for those who experience sustained success, especially if they don’t have to give appropriate account for their actions; often these people lack empathy and misuse or abuse their power.
Those who have suffered much privation in life will not have experienced much if any privilege, and they will almost always have been in powerless situations, at the mercy of the powerful (and how ironic it is to use the word ‘mercy’ in this context).
Those living in privilege, and I am counted in that number, often need to be reminded of the mercy and compassion that is due for those who have experienced much privation. It isn’t natural for us who have been born in our working-class or middle-class families, who have lived working-class or middle-class lives, to truly empathise with those society has rejected and abandoned. Our only real hope is some kind of journey into grief, to suffer something enormously, to know the enormity of anguish, which births compassion in us. And yet so many working-class and middle-class people do, and they benefit accordingly.
Grief is good in that it can raise us
from a necessary death-of-self
to a life spent for others
in the very definition of compassion.
But we are all tempted to abuse what power we have. Those who’ve suffered privation may appear to have no power, except for the power they have within their own families to extrapolate the hurts from one generation to the next. This is why those who have been subject to privation need compassion and therapy and a way forward to break the curse, so their family has a fresh chance. As a society, we have a role to ensure this is facilitated. But, as a society, we have more often than not failed the forgotten ones.
Where we have power, we ought to de-power at the very power structures we have responsibility for, without abdicating our responsibilities. Power ought only to be given to those who have a desire to serve; who genuinely seek to elevate people, especially those who have little or no influence over such elevations.
Where we have privilege, we should be patently aware of the luxury we have experienced and continue to possess, all the while being just as aware of the impact that there is on those who do not enjoy such privilege. What a gift that is truly to be able to see from privilege the disadvantages those without privilege face. And how good it is when that vision is able to be converted into action.
I have personally been in all three situations in my life, as a person powerful in my profession, as a person who has enjoyed the privilege of my culture, yet also as a person who has from time to time experienced privation in the form of abuse. It is only the latter that has taught me anything, especially in context of power and privilege. It is only the latter that has taught me how much trauma sticks and changes people.
Without privation we can learn little
about the important things in life.
Power teaches us nothing unless we fail.
Privilege leaves us blind to what those without privilege face,
unless we are shown very intentionally
and can feel something of their pain.
The powerful and privileged must be educated regarding the worthiness of those who have suffered privation, but it is ironic that privation is what they often must experience to truly understand.
Society is at its greatest when it cares best for its least.
Civilisation is founded on its just treatment of its vulnerable.
This article was inspired by How You Can Care about Forgotten Australians.

Friday, June 29, 2018

So that’s the funeral, where to from here?



She sat there broken yet dignified as I delivered the eulogy on her behalf. The picture of strength in weakness, everything I observed about her suggested she wished to acknowledge everyone else’s pain while still being real about her own anguish. You know the kind of experience when you want to encourage someone who just seems to epitomise everything that you admire; this widow was that person.
As this wife sat there, allowing me to serve her and the assembled throng just as I was engaged to do, I couldn’t help but feel just a little bit out of my depth; that I was doing such holy work as to be unworthy of it.
Of course, with almost a fortnight’s preparation, and the execution of the service itself, the family are left with picking up the pieces of what remains in those minutes when those last visitors ebb away.
When the funeral is over, and the wake is done, even that night those ones who are proximal to the deceased come face-to-face with the lonely prospect of what now.
The season is thereby entered, and there is no mistaking it. The growth journey is a miasma like poison in a river of love made toxic, making the ground etched in promise appear as if it is death itself.
No wonder this growth journey is found so untrustworthy. No wonder the grieving person makes a deal with denial or bitterness or depression or a vicarious combination of these.
Grief is far too hard for any of us to explain it away.
Even as I write these words I know that without my personal testimony I am unqualified as credible, yet just because I have grieved, and knowing what I know, I realise I am still unqualified to commentate another person’s grief journey.
All I can do is promise to sit there with them, to pray silently for them, to authenticate their experience as beyond my understanding, hailing the mystery of the God of love and loss, promising to continue to glorify this Lord who continues to allow such suffering as to even further deepen our resolve of love.
This widow’s testimony mentioned this exact thing; the realisation that the loss of her husband was but a significant and stark lesson in love, both the hardest and deepest lesson love could teach any of us. Oh, and how we want love to be real! Love has a sting in its tail.
As we go on, those moments when people split away, and we can no longer ignore the gnawing reality, I’m reminded of the very first moment in the maternity hospital where the reality of Nathanael’s death grew exponentially into a giant before my eyes. We had had a visit from the social worker who had not asked whether it was a good time or not to visit. I mentioned to her in uncharacteristic bluntness (I don’t normally treat strangers that way) that she should come back later, because we wanted to sob in peace. She was very nice and understood and promptly left. These were the first moments we had had alone with him without others around; 18 hours after his birth.
It’s the same kind of thing, the day after we have buried or cremated a loved one. We either feel the gravity of emptiness or we are confused as to know how to feel. And then there’s the war within the logical and feeling mind that produces guilt for feeling normal when we feel we don’t deserve to feel normal.
How are we supposed to feel?
Some may think, how am I meant to go on?
Some are still desperate for answers. Others cannot believe how blunt and how final grief actually is. We quickly come to experience just how unfair life is, that it’s capable of poleaxing us. Until we come to this place, we never realised just how painful life could be. It is only later that we realise that the suffering that was real to our experience is a suffering eternally available within the realm of humanity. Until now, we had been ‘saved’ from it.
Of course, there is a sanctifying property about suffering. We learn a compendium of compassion in it. But this article is not really about that. It’s about sitting in those awkwardly futile and unimaginably agonising places, clawing for a way to receive respite. There are times when we find what we are looking for, but this unfortunately is in the minority of our experience. The majority of our experience impels us toward the unfathomable reality of life that has no way of reckoning a compromise to peace.
And that is loss; a grief that steals gone our capacity to manage the pain away, and to stay in this place for months if not years. Do I write these things to discourage you? Do I write these things to depress you? No, I write these things to validate what you, the reader, has come to recognise as normal given the new state of things.
Are we supposed to hold it together?
Are we supposed to be able to bear this most gruesome reality?
No, I am convinced that these realities that are far too big for us are given to us in order to challenge and transform us. They are to unify us within a community of sufferers. They are to break us sufficiently that we realise the folly in relying on our own strength. They are to grow us up.
Grief cauterises both want and capacity
for doing life in our own strength.
These experiences are there to open our eyes; the eyes of our hearts. Only as we recognise the dearth of our capacity can we reach up and take hold of a capacity that is fully of God’s hand and provision.
We have many heroes in this life. But none more courageous than the widow or widower or the parent who suffers loss. Forget about the sports stars who thrill us with their skill. Forget about the artist who inspires us. Forget about the songs we sing that titillate our heart.
The one we ought to applaud the most
is the one who is silently suffering for love.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

A Repentant Believer’s Prayer

Photo by Cristian Newman on Unsplash
Lord Jesus,
You came to live life as a human, You taught and served and healed, and died a sinless man for sinners like me.
You did not deserve the kind of death You died, but Your death to save humankind was foretold, and death didn’t stop You. You rose again, and after forty days ascended to be with the Father once more.
When the fiftieth day came, You sent the Spirit, so every true believer could be baptised in You.
And this:
You,
the Lamb that was slain,
deserve the reward of Your suffering,
and that is my life for You.
I’m going to obey You and love You and serve You and do what You want me to do, all the days of my life, even if I go to hell when I die, and even if I suffer in this life, simply because You’re worthy to be loved and obeyed and served. And because I’m not trying to make a deal with You. I trust You regarding my worldly and eternal destinies.
I want to live for You in such a way that the desires of my heart align with Your will, by putting Your Kingdom and Your Righteousness first in my life. I understand this isn’t always easy, so I ask You now to give me the heart of flesh to replace the heart of stone I’ve had until now in areas of my life.
May worship be my means, justice be my measure, mercy be my modality, and humility be my method.
Grant me the wisdom to love and to serve and to honour You, the serenity of peace as the assurance of my way with You, and courage when life is hard, when fear berates and shakes my being.
May my allegiance to You always overcome the temptations of the world, my flesh, and the wiles of Satan. May You attain the reward of Your suffering for me through my earthly life. And may I live a life according to Your Beatitudes, honouring all Your core teaching. Finally, may You always help me pour contempt on my pride so I can walk humbly these remaining days You give me on this earth.
Yours, always, a living sacrifice, for Your sake,
Amen.