Thursday, November 26, 2020

Prayer for the one tired under the tyranny of spiritual attack


Dear God

This is a prayer, as You know, for that person who is 
beyond tired of spiritual attack.  You know who they are, Lord.
That voice that cries out in the wilderness just now, 
seeking to be heard, seeking to be met, seeking to be found.
Come to that one now.

This one who is reaching out to You one final time,
though in fact they may have years ago found You,
or, perhaps they haven’t and yet they need You now!
The one who has come to a place that resembles a precipice:
come home to them in the miraculous way of a sign.

For the one who is at their end of their resolve,
the person who has tried everything but has come up short,
this one who has left nothing to chance,
who is giving it one last try before one last try,
be to this one a sign in the form of an answer to this prayer.

When all has turned against this life that feels forlorn,
and the trophies of past have tarnished brown long ago,
where hope and peace and joy amid love were possessed,
but are now no more during this time,
give ascent to Your grace and power in them now.

For the one who is so close to You but knows it not,
the person who pleases you by not only who they are,
but for what they also do,
even as they keep working in faith without having received the promise,
deliver upon that promise today.

As states of anxiety and depressed thought cloud and crowd,
as fear contends and sadness evolves,
grace their countenance with a glow that can only be You,
even as they come to see it for themselves.

Holy Spirit, rain down, today.
In the name of Jesus of Nazareth.

AMEN.

Photo by Mehrpouya H on Unsplash

 

Monday, November 23, 2020

Frustration and irritability – signposts of early-stage depression


Whenever I’ve seen frustration and irritability in myself or others it’s switched a light on for me.  It’s like others can see it but we cannot, when we’re beyond reason in our being confounded by the simplest of things.

It’s so easy, too easy, to fall gradually into the abyss of depression, and what starts it often is the telltale signs of frustration and irritability that signal fear has entered the narrative.

This form of fear insidiously sneaks up and cavorts as anger.  And to make things more complicated there’s sadness too — sorrow that we cannot have the level of control that we would wish to exert over our lives or situations of our life.

One sure way of determining whether we’re entering the sinkhole is to ask ourselves how much we’re expecting to impact our circle of concern — those things we want different but have no control over.

The way we stay out of running headlong into a rut is by being disciplined enough to only be concerned about those things we have an influence over — the circle of influence.

One of the simplest most profound pieces of wisdom is the prayer for serenity:

God,
give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, 
courage to change the things I can, 
and the wisdom to know the difference.

Serenity, courage, wisdom.  All because the person who prays this prayer stays within their circle of influence.  They refuse to enter the madness of expecting change in areas of life they have no control over.

When a person understands their frustration and irritability are rooted in hopes that can’t be met, they begin to comprehend the path they’re on.  They see it’s nonsensical, and they commence a diligent path of wisdom that seeks ordered steps.

Avoiding full-blown depression is helped along by the peace of acceptance.  The mature life accepts none of us are ever completely satisfied.  We all want something we cannot have, and most of us want many things we cannot have.

Frustration and irritability are important signs we’re on the wrong path.

There are many situations and seasons of life when we’re justifiably frustrated and irritable.  The problem, however, is no matter how justified these emotions are, they never take us in the right direction.  We would always be better searching for — and finding — our peace.

Peace is in rest, and in coming back into the eternality of the fact that we’re all but dust.

We need to re-enter our smallness, stop imagining we have any power at all, and then, straightaway, we begin to see the kingdom of heaven come into view.  Humility truly is the key to it all.

Serenity.  Courage.  Wisdom.

Photo by Marek Piwnicki on Unsplash

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Looking after yourself and others when personal crisis strikes


When personal crisis strikes, all that matters is keeping ourselves and others safe.  Ultimately, if we keep ourselves safe it will mean we can keep others safer too.

Human behaviour elicits two different inappropriate responses to existential conflict; escape and attack.  Within these are the trauma responses of fight, flight, freeze and fawn.

Intrapersonal stress mounts and must either be projected onto another/others through an attack, or the stress is introjected, and the aggression is turned inward upon oneself.

Many people cannot allow themselves to attack others; at least not as the first voluntary act.  Some attacks come out of absorbing too much for too long, especially in relationships where there is a lot of aggression to bear.

But also, many people hold nothing back, and when they don’t think about their impact, when others are around others are easily hurt.  The worst variety of those who respond by attacking others are those who feel entitled to do so.  And the most dangerous of those are those who see themselves as the victims, because they gaslight others into submission.  True victims aren’t characteristically attackers.

When crisis strikes, we need to keep things simple.  Really simple.  The elements of crisis — any crisis — are so multilayered that they overwhelm us.  Rather than become trapped in trying to make sense of what is often too complex to understand — especially when we’re reeling — it’s better to simply respond with mindfulness for the two inappropriate responses.

That gets us to pause long enough to consider what our response will be.

The reason we react in these inappropriate ways?  We all know how easily we opt for reacting out of the presence of anger or fear.

ANGER, FEAR... SADNESS

Anger harms others and fear harms ourselves.

Whenever we harm others, we also harm ourselves — our reputations, our roles, our opportunities, our futures.  And when we harm others, in many cases, we can cause trauma.  Once the damage is done the best from there is restitution.  Not everything can be put back together again.  Better as much as possible to live without regret.

Whenever we harm ourselves, not only does our world miss out on the best of us, there is the real risk that others who love and care for us can be harmed.  The harm we do to ourselves ranges from self-loathing to real action of self-hatred and self-anger, when the voice within is not one of anger, but of cavernous sorrow for the fear we cannot reconcile.

One thing is clear: anger and fear are often secondary emotions.  They herald the need to go deeper into the primary emotion that is truer existentially.  That is often sorrow.  Anger and fear are underpinned at the rawest level by sadness.  What our body is saying we need to express the sadness we feel deeper below our conscious awareness.

Think of the relief we feel having howled our eyes out.  The body has its own expert way of helping us process sorrow, yet so many of us are afraid of sobbing heaving mobs of tears.  That and the support of those who ‘get’ this sorrow that morphs into anger and fear.

If only we can stop in the midst of the crisis and calculate for a better response — so we don’t hurt ourselves by introjecting harm or hurting others by projecting harm.  Neither anger nor fear are helpful responses when we’re overwhelmed by stressful situations.

If only we can manage our crisis without hurting ourselves and others, we will get through it without regret or causing harm.

Ultimately we learn something very important by responses that honour our deeper truth.  The only way we learn these things is via practicing them.

Photo by Jamie MacPherson on Unsplash

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Signs and sounds of therapeutic and abusive silences


Everything good can be weaponised, just as the good can be amazingly good.  It all depends on the orientation of the heart.

There are certain silences that are clearly and obviously abusive — like when you’re frozen out of a community or a conversation without the respect of an explanation.  Or, when it’s within our role or remit to be included on something and all you hear is crickets.  These silences bark like a foghorn and their resonance is an enduring echo.

But there are good and useful silences too, like when we open space for someone to share, when you’re listening, when your heart is oriented to support and care for them.  It’s a key skill in counselling, actually; to know when and how to not butt in and interrupt, to linger into the silence, even and especially into the potentially awkward place of feeling distinctly uncomfortable in allowing the silent seconds to tick on by without allowing anxiety to break the sanctity.  That’s a hard thing to do, but at times it’s into these silences that people speak very important things, and so many times it’s at the end of saying something that a person pauses before they offer forth whatever they’ve been hesitating to communicate all along.

The hardest silences of all are the denials of abuse that occur more commonly than many of us realise.  It’s to be understood that this is a compounding abuse; the initial abuse is covered over and the secondary abuse of denying the wrongdoing is more heinous than ever.  A tertiary abuse is done — yes, a third most damaging layer — when a whole community joins in.  Again, this is a silence that speaks damningly when it completely ignores the case of innocents.

There are, of course, very wise silences where we refrain from saying what would almost certainly do harm, where our patience works for the favour of all; especially in overlooking offenses, those where angels would fear to tread.

So silence can be used for good and for evil purposes.

It’s up to each of us to speak wisely into spaces where there are elephants in rooms, just as much as it’s up to each of us to hold our peace when someone has something important to say; especially when we may be their only chance or their last ditch attempt.  ‘Holding space’ in these ways is comparatively easy, and it always a blessing to the one we’re present with.

Photo by Dedu Adrian on Unsplash

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Languages of the divine that speak change into existence


I was at a school assembly, on an ordinary enough Wednesday morning, where the children were strangely distracted, when a girl was introduced to perform her musical item.

There was nothing particularly sacred about this moment, but as soon as her fingers hit the keys, something divine was engaged in my heart.

The music spoke, and indeed the performance transcended a mere mortal playing the piano.

For me, the entire auditorium fell silent. It was as if everything had shifted from the earthly into the eternal, for those incredibly precious five and a half minutes.

Suddenly I was transported in the moment into a highly emotional state that is best characterised as deeply connected with the divine whilst also gaining a vision of possible regret.  It was a warning vision about the relationship I have with my son, and how often I had been prioritising other things above him, and the language with which that spoke volumes to him in possibly the worst of all ways.

God showed me that I was missing the mark, that though I was choosing to do important things in preference to him, I was choosing things that are important in an earthly sense; that are not at all important from an eternal perspective.  I was shown that I was wasting the precious opportunities I had to build connection with my one remaining living son, in contrast to the son we have lost.

God showed me that that same morning I’d gotten on with something very important by cutting short by even a minute or two precious connection time with my son, and God showed me his delayed response was rejection of me for my earlier rejection of him.

Finally, God showed me a snippet of consequences — a playing of the movie forward — to give me one last decision point to arrive at.  Then I heard, “You want to change, don’t you?”  How is it that God is so gentle to convict us and THEN, once we’ve agreed in our spirit, God will confirm it through such a rhetorical question? — almost as if God isn’t rebuking us, but encouraging us to take the next step.

It is what it is.  It was what it was.

I certainly had to moderate my emotional response.  God had gotten through to me in the directest of ways.  And all this had taken place in the first half of the performance.  The very accomplished girl who was performing the piece — Nuvole Bianche — had practiced diligently for seven months to perform it to near-on perfection.

The fact is God communicates through anything and everything the divine needs.  I had no idea I was going to receive what I did.  It basically triggered me to a decision point — in two minutes (the divine transcends time!).  God got through, and at just the right time my life circumstances are changing in unison with the vision.

Nobody who truly believes in the power of God to communicate and convict is beyond being touched in these ways.  And when this occurs, it’s not us who bring about the change that needs to occur, but it’s the power of God residing in us that brings it to completion.  

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

The one and only thing addicts and abusers need to do to heal for the benefit of themselves and others


The absolute pivot point in human recalcitrance is refusing to take responsibility for what is ours and ours alone.  This is a universal truth.  The effect is those who refuse to take the only power they have make their own lives and all those around them miserable.

If only they would take a deep look inward, stop blaming others, and start to see and respond to what only they themselves can.

I can tell you who will end up in problems with addiction and abusing others — those who constantly blame others for what only they themselves can do.

But for the one who begins to take his responsibility, the sky’s the limit as far as what he will be able to do.  His internal locus of control makes him the master of his own destiny.  Stuff doesn’t just happen against him.  He sees himself as an active player in his world.

In recovery, using something akin to the twelve steps, the make-or-break is the matter of honesty — the ability (or not) to take responsibility for everything we have done or not done.  Recovery is what both the addict and the abuser need.  They have a common ally: honesty, if only they’re humble enough.

I’m not writing anything here I haven’t wrestled with personally.  I myself was the benefactor of the twelve-step program through gut-wrenching honesty every step of the way.  Recovery teaches you honesty and accountability.  And these are the keys to a life of honour for the person and all those impacted by them.

Learning that brutal honesty each step of the way is a personal and interpersonal blessing to all, wisdom dictates it’s the only way forward.

The one thing addicts and abusers can do to heal for the benefit of everyone, not least themselves, is to admit their lives are out of control; that the damage they’ve wreaked is the result of their incapacity to face themselves and others.  There is a refusal to relate with both themselves and others.  In refusing to face the realities everyone close to them can see, they refuse access to their own healing.  It is an outrageous tragedy.

Anytime we face the truth, we’re on the cusp of being set free.  Let the process begin for those who are willing to own inconvenient and even ugly truths.

But those who refuse to face reality are destined to cause a mountain of pain for themselves and others.

Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash

Saturday, November 7, 2020

Carried again by faith and prayer on the day of the funeral


The week of the death of a loved one always involves the planning of a funeral, and because we were expecting our boy Nathanael wouldn’t survive, we had already made some basic preparations. It was an enormous rollercoaster ride spending time with our son, seeing to all the arrangements, tasking our family in support, and attending to those arrangements. There was only enough time to do everything and be exhausted.

ENCOURAGEMENT FROM NEAR AND AFAR

It all culminated on 7 November 2014, when upon waking and checking social media (as we do) I saw a plethora of messages of support from the Pallister-Killian Syndrome global family. There are only about 300 families worldwide, and we must’ve received messages of support from nearly 50 of these who are part of a tight PKS-Kids network. We were both blown away with the love of all these vulnerable people and families, families of which had been our family in support for the previous three months, from the time we received our diagnosis.

We were also completely gobsmacked by the love and care of those in our home church among others. People did practical things — yard makeovers and beautiful meals — because I didn’t have time, but it was more than that. Everyone who followed our journey, people all over the world thanks to social media, held us in their thoughts and prayers, much to the degree that we felt carried in our faith.

NEGOTIATING THE SERVICE ITSELF

The next thing to negotiate was getting to the church and spending our very last moments with Nathanael. Sarah was both incredibly brave but also unbelievably broken.

At the end of the ceremony, Sarah literally had nothing left. I on the other hand continued to feel carried. The beginning of the day I just asked God, “I hope we’ve got it in us to do this, Lord. Please help us.” Our Lord did not disappoint.

By the time we said goodbye to the hearse it suddenly dawned on me that Nathanael was gone — we’d seen him for the last time. Though his spirit had flown over a week ago, there was a great deal of human comfort in having him close, accessible. That moment the hearse left I sobbed. I’d held it in until that point. (And I guess I’ve cried dozens of hours of tears since.) Yet, soon I was tasked with thanking the throng gathered at the doors of the church.

Again, to say Sarah was done was an understatement; not only the grief but the very physical nature of recovering from a C-section in the worst of circumstances — her body had been through so much, not to mention the lack of sleep. There were other stressful factors at play throughout this season and the weight of all of it continued to bear down on the both of us. But we were thankful that God, with the support of our family and friends, had seen us through.

A MEETING WITH LONELINESS

After funerals there’s normally a wake. We had a morning tea at the church for those who could stay. Sarah’s condition dictated that we needed to get her home sooner rather than later, but many wanted to offer their personal condolence and it was difficult to convey we wanted it over.

When we did finally arrive at home, I put Sarah into bed and took our son out to have lunch with my three daughters. Much as I’d been doing the previous four months, I took on the lion’s share of what needed doing (though Sarah’s mother had also done an enormous amount of work on a weekly basis, and we’d received help from my parents too). The thing that was lost on a few people at the time was the sheer amount of work involved in managing a household supporting a wife who required almost weekly medical intervention. Yes, a few expected me to be just as productive as ever. That was just not possible, and I know I did the best I could with the time I had, using work as a health distraction factor, amid what was a season of calamitous ambiguous loss.

The lunch date with my children was a beautiful occasion just to be together — with those who count most.  It has only just dawned on me that we went to the same café as I regularly frequent when I’m working for the Department of Fire and Emergency Services. Being a person who sees the inherent value of place, I see God in that. It was a great way to wind down. Once my son and I got home, the rest of the day was deeply anticlimactic; I guess we all just felt so empty after a week where distraction favoured purpose.

After the funeral, when everyone’s gone, and you’re left to your own devices, there’s no escaping the full weight of loss is inevitably felt. For me, it was a very silent loneliness and I can recall calling my mother as I continued to let Sarah rest. That following week was probably the quietest of our lives. It felt like the world really didn’t exist. We stayed home and bailed on life completely.

~~

As a funeral celebrant, I am constantly in awe of the courage families enduring loss display. It’s why it’s my favourite place to be. Where people are living testimonies of the strength grievers exemplify. In polarising and at times paralysing weakness I have seen the paradox of the most inspiring strength.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Hope beyond post-traumatic stress and a vision for recovery


Triggers for trauma characterise post-traumatic stress.  And the truth is most of us bear some characterizable trauma, and for many people it’s a complicated set of traumas.  There is hope.  Just as the brain has amazing plasticity and can rewire so we can re-learn, we can work through our trauma a bit at a time, through a gentle, wise, self-paced process.

If it’s treatment we seek, we must hold out to work only with those who are considered to be trauma-informed.  And the final test is how we feel about their work; not another’s recommendation or endorsement.

Everything needs to be tested, and your gut adjudicates.  I think this is more about the process a therapist uses and less about a piece of paper that adorns a wall if you know what I mean.

Whoever helps us as we walk the gentle path of achieving understanding necessarily admits us to the position of control.  They may be responsible for our safety, but they ensure that we have control over our own process.  Yes, that’s right; it’s imperative that the client governs the pace and the trajectory of the therapeutic approach.  The counsellor must exercise their discernment.  They must be willing to back out at a moment’s notice and execute the gentlest, most respectful recovery process.  The client’s mental, emotional and spiritual safety is paramount.

What about if you decide to go it alone for a while.  Perhaps you’ve decreed that nobody offers what you need for such a time as this, and maybe it’s the community of peers that may assist.  Do not underestimate your own abilities to equip yourself to be your own best ally.  We can do anything if our mind is committed and our heart is invested.

Gentleness with ourselves, much as we would expect others to be gentle with us, is the key.  Watch for self-judgement through the inner critic who drives us toward perfection.

Recovery is about progress not perfection.  Recovery can feel as if you’re making absolutely no progress — do you know what; that is the assurance that you’re doing no further harm.  Doing no further harm — staying safe — is victory, my friend.  Don’t see it any other way.  At times like this we can pat ourselves on the back, smile into a mirror, and say, “I got this... one day at a time... each moment as necessary... I got this... I got this ESPECIALLY when it feels I’m making no progress.”

Sometimes it’s accountability groups or teams of two or more people that take us from weakness to strength.  Accountability is not about people picking us up on what we’re doing wrong.  It’s the other way around; they pick us up on the things we don’t see in ourselves that we ought to see — the good things, the encouragements, the kindnesses.

There is hope beyond our post-traumatic stress.

Stay positive, see it as a long game, take the pressure down, be gentle with yourself, watch and rebuke the inner critic (“Don’t be harsh on me”), and surround yourself with people who see the best in you.

The very moments we take the pressure down and practice acceptance of where we’re at, the process of healing advances almost by osmosis.  To augment healing we so often just need to get out of our own way.

Photo by Julia Caesar on Unsplash

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Like a wind that blows all the way to heaven


It catches a precious one,
perhaps he was 2, or she was seven-months,
or maybe he or she had never breathed a breath.
The wind catches this soul,
and casts it up, all the way into the safer reaches
of God most high, not to or no longer to experience
the unspeakable pains of mortal life.
But the wind, though it blesses
with infinite blessing the soul taken to God;
that wind separates and leaves souls
on earth bereft of meaning for such a long time.

~

Loss involves peace for our angels who gain their wings having never had the chance to do a bad thing in this life.  But as our angels’ float to heaven, cause on the updraft, carried effervescently into a bliss beyond knowing, we are left without them.  And it leaves such a cavernous hole in our lives.

There must be a purpose in an experience that drives us to a completely different place than we’ve ever been.  For such a long, long time – that feels like an eternity of eternities – we are beset by the grips of sorrow like nobody ever imagined.  Yet, somehow, we can’t escape the grips of hope that one day there will be a meaning beyond the pain.

The experience takes us out of some lives and puts us abruptly into others.  Suddenly we find a unique crowd ‘get’ us and very many don’t.  We resolve within ourselves at times that this is the way it’s meant to be, yet at other times we cannot help but bellow, “Why?”

Our angels are taken deep into God and we, for this time, will be separate from them.  We know they’re safe, yet such a knowledge doesn’t help much.  The mind understands but the heart cannot be soothed.

There are tears to the point of wondering; when will the sadness end?  We’re taken beyond what seems a ‘reasonable grief’ much more until we realise, the sorrow of grief is a pit without bottom. And yet somehow there are angels on earth who speak beyond words of comfort – a comfort that comforts us in a place where no comfort can reach.

Loss is a thing destined to take us, ourselves, to God; to a place where we may commune spiritually with the one who holds souls.  Yet such a thing is beyond tangibility; it is beyond reach of the mind; it can only be believed by faith.

Compassion speaks in the words of presence which is inaudible and purely spiritual.  When one human speaks this silent language to another, heaven’s prayer is answered.

Angels watch over us.

Photo by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash 

Monday, November 2, 2020

What people with depression need most from the church is compassion


Having had some personal experience with depression usually as an adjunct to grief, yet without any experience with full-blown clinical depression, I am grateful for the lessons I’ve learned, as a pastor, regarding how the church can support those with clinical depression.

Grief-induced depression, or depression induced due to change etc, i.e., non-clinical depression, is very far removed from clinical depression. These two are poles apart. And whilst the former person might be encouraged by words from the Bible, the latter — the people who have struggled with clinical depression — may inevitably feel condemned because they are misunderstood. They are, therefore, so far as the church is concerned, misrepresented. For, the church exists to speak into the hearts of suffering people as these, by a compassion beyond words.

This is not to say that those who are clinically depressed can’t receive encouragement from the Bible—of course they can. It just needs to be revealed in ways that they discover it for themselves or in ways that they own.

The Church and Its Role In Ministering to the Clinically Depressed

The church has a very specific role when it comes to ministering to the clinically depressed.

The church is no snake oil healer, nor is it a place where someone might be diagnosed. Anything other than supporting a person with clinical depression, by just journeying non-judgmentally with them, treads the fine line of ministry malpractice. The reason being, those who are clinically depressed are so home to feeling condemned, due to their experience and indeed even within their own thoughts. The only thing that defeats such mindsets of condemnation is a continual commitment to compassion; no matter what. Besides, the church and its ministers are unqualified to do anything other than to support—but they’re perfectly qualified to do that, because they’re invigorated by the compassion of the Holy Spirit. Compassionate journeying with a person with clinical depression is the rock with which they can stand, be safe and ultimately grow—at their pace.

The church exists to be the hands and feet of Jesus,
nothing more, and certainly nothing less.

Yet, that becomes too clichéd. Too often we find the church knows the right words to say but these are devoid of compassion; the words lack sincerity and they lack meaning, and as a function, Christ loses credibility—even when God is the only credible overall Guide.

As a church there is sometimes a role for facilitating the right level of medical support, if required (i.e., helping connect people with proven [caring and competent] medical and health professionals). To encourage someone to go to their doctor when they’re reluctant; that’s a role for people in the church.

I’ve heard some who have been clinically depressed say to me that they felt that the biochemical balance had to be restored first and foremost, before any real spiritual work could be done (which they, alone, are to be masters of, with a pastor’s or mentor’s support where it’s requested). We can ensure that we validate the need to achieve biochemical balance—the need for pharmaceuticals to restore physiological balance to the body and mind. Many people rely on medications to survive. Pain, mood stabilising and antidepressant medications, etc, are vital.

More than anything else what we can do, within our churches, is to unconditionally accept those who have suffered, and continue to suffer, clinical depression. It must be a safe place to come to, where all vagaries of mood are accepted and never judged. Clinical depression cannot be explained to the layperson. We are to offer compassion.

What we cannot understand or explain needs only compassion.


Photo by Felipe Labate on Unsplash 

Friday, October 30, 2020

Depression, trauma, anxiety, panic attacks, loss, chronic pain, a bearer of suffering, and more Christian than ever


What feels like tiredness, but is more, much more debilitating, where mental health goes into freefall, the body refuses to work, the mind cannot think, and the being cannot feel, is an indescribable state.  It could be just for brief periods, but it’s like all the life forced is sucked out.  Surrender occurs because there is no other choice.

Whether we call Christ our Saviour or not matters little.  As a function of trauma or of inexplicable reasons, whatever, we can descend into crashes like this.  Through burning out or through grief for loss, and it matters little the victory you have in Christ or anything else you may cling to.

Certainly, as far as faith in Christ goes, I know there are those who believe it’s an all-conquering thing, as if click your fingers and every ailment goes away.  This is not the hallmark of Christian faith.  Faith in Jesus occurs in the opposite orientation — when we are weak then we are strong, yes, even though we are weak.  We don’t need to overcome in our own strength for Christ has already overcome FOR us.

Whether we suffer depression, trauma, anxiety, fatigue, panic attacks, triggering, burning out, chronic pain or not matters little in the economy of God, and yet God — yes, God — is a sufferer!  God groans with all creation.  God bears pain.  Our pain, most intimately.  We cannot know God more or better than when we’re in the midst of our own existential torment.

We are in the best company when we suffer.  God is close whether we feel God is close or not.  It’s a divine fact.  When we have nothing left to give, we can know that we’re not required to give anything to receive it all from God; every need, not least our precious salvation.

We live in the hope of a resurrection; THAT is the victory of the gospel.  It is a ‘now but not yet’ reality, and it isn’t for us to gloat about how ‘good’ our faith is if we can miraculously procure it.  Indeed, all miracles belong to God and all glory goes to our King, and yet the King and Lord of glory would not have one person separated because they ‘don’t have sufficient faith’.

Indeed, God knows that the person who suffers many debilitations is the living testimony of faith.  And what God says is all that matters.

May the peace of God be with you all ways. 


Photo by Michael Shannon on Unsplash 

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

What Year would Nathanael be in, Dad?


“What year of school
would Nathanael be in, Dad?”
My 7 year old son 
asked of me recently.
“Pre-primary this year,”
I said in response,
“‘This’ big he would be.”
“Oh,” my son said,
A little surprised,
and kind of curiously pleased.
That was that as we sat
quiet and reflectively thankful.
It was another moment of which
in the silence of being
to just be pensively grateful.

Don’t be concerned that our seven-year-old would be grieving.  He’s not grieving, he is just remembering.  We don’t forget Nathanael.  We keep talking about him because his memory is alive with us and keeping his memory alive is important to us.  He is part of us.  It doesn’t make us sad.  Not all the time.  And besides, why would we be afraid of our sadness?

Of course, we would have him with us in a heartbeat.  As a school chaplain, I’m particularly mindful when I walk into a pre-primary class of children who are approaching their sixth birthdays as Nathanael would be at the end of this week.  I look at the way they walk and talk and share (or not as the case may be).  I see them laugh and cry and I know that this is what Nathanael would be like.

And yet, Nathanael, had he lived, would have been a very special child.  Nathanael had Pallister-Killian Syndrome — it’s extremely rare; only about 300 children in the world at any one time have this syndrome affecting the twelfth chromosome.

One thing we like about the fact that we’ve lost Nathanael from now to eternity is we get to practice the art of loss with our son.  Perhaps that sounds weird, and certainly countercultural.  We get to practice the idea that we cannot control all the things that happen to us.  We try on the clothing of acceptance and we get to wear it as long as we think about him.  We get to face those things with our son in ways that show him that facing things is the way to life; that turning away — dissociating — from stuff is truly death.

We don’t like everything about that fact that we’ve lost him; how could we?

We don’t like the fact that Nathanael never had a chance.  We hate that.  But we’ve learned to accept that we’ll have our day with him one day.  And that hope is beyond words and meaning in this world.  We’ve learned that he’s safe with Jesus.  Never more do we need to worry about his welfare; that is sealed.  Our anxieties for keeping our child safe have been replaced with a gentle and patient longing for not having him.

I love those moments when we sit together — literally a few seconds — where it’s the peace of acceptance, where the fear is stripped away from sadness, where acceptance is grief resolved, where the sting of wanting things differently has been replaced with silence in our souls.

None of us need to tip-toe around the gorgeous subject of our dearly loved son.

He has earned his way to heaven in a way that none of us in this living realm can.

Isn’t that good? 

Saturday, October 24, 2020

God won’t give you more than you can handle but life certainly will


I can’t claim this as my own idea.  It was provided by someone I counsel.  It is such a remarkable concept that I thought some of you would appreciate it.

God won’t give us more than we can handle but life certainly will.  The second part of that sentence is definitely our life experience.  So often we’re sent things that seem destined to break us, we feel overwhelmed, anxiety is difficult to shake, and we wrangle with depression when grief besets our soul.  In this we face an existential death.  But death breeds life in the Jesus-economy of things.  Life will give us more than we can handle, yet there’s a godly purpose in being pushed beyond our control.

§     We learn we have limits and as our pride takes a hit, humility has a chance to grow.

§     We gain an appreciation for the suffering of others and our empathy grows.

§     We begin to understand that in frustration is futility, and our patience grows.

§     Experiencing how much we need people to be gentle with us, and how much we need to be gentle with ourselves, our gentleness grows.

§     In trusting God even though we want things back the way they were, or better than they are, our faithfulness grows.

I think you get the point.  All this essentially out of loss.  See how grief is often not the nemesis we think it is and that it can be the gateway to life eternal.

So, having acknowledged that God has a purpose in suffering and a plan beyond it, to give us a future we hope for and not to harm us, we move onto the concept I want to focus on; the concept I was given by my client.

If you had battled through many months of an intense steps program, and faced so very much of your past, and had God bless your faithful adherence to the program, you may find God blessing you in incredible ways.  Perhaps, for anyone looking on, these blessings would be extremely small mercies, but because they are the exact desires of your heart you are over the moon because they’ve happened.  Maybe you’ve bargained with God and said, “I want this and that,” and frustratingly you’ve heard God say, “No, that’s too much for you to handle all at once.”  You say back to God, “No, Lord, I’m able to handle this.”  But God knows better.

God doesn’t give us more than we can handle in terms of what is brought into our life one day at a time as we recover.  Our Lord is so patient to take the pressure down, when we would have it all happen overnight.

God gives us a small amount of what we want, and often the size of it is enough to blow us away.  This is to show us we often don’t know what we’re wishing for.

Life has given us more than we can handle, which tipped us into this place of loss.  God has responded by not giving us more than we can handle, by giving us little bits so we can be assured we can handle it.  What God gives is always good.

God knows we overestimate our abilities and capacities, and therefore it’s our Lord’s kindness to expect less of us than we would expect of ourselves.

Acknowledgement to LW.  This is no comment on 1 Corinthians 10:13.


Photo by Long Truong on Unsplash