Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Even intimate relationships need peacemaking


So very many relationships don’t last the distance.  The all-too-common saddest situation is in the dividing.  Many of these broken relationships feature people broken by the conflict that shatters that once strong bond.

But it could be a lot different, if only one, to begin with, sees the value in peacemaking.  But the other must reciprocate for it to work.  Relationships work through reciprocation.

Peacemaking is the commitment and capacity 
to make peace in the presence of conflict.

~

Conflict is inevitable,
especially in intimate relationships.

Only by peacemaking is there hope to negotiate conflict directly.  And there’s only one way it works; through doing the inner work of honest reflection about our own contributions to conflict.

Where two people do this in any kind of close relationship, hey presto, there’s union of mind and heart!

CONFLICT AVOIDANCE AND AGGRESSION

Most people avoid conflict like the plague, so they go to many lengths to fawn in the face of difficulty.  Indeed, many fraught relationships are started just this way.  One or both cannot bring their partner or friend to loving short account.  On the other side of a knife’s edge is the other kind of response, where a partner or a friend aggresses, creating the initial cause of the conflict.  Usually, the other either meets the initial aggression with aggression or avoidance.  Rarely is it that the partner or friend can be a peacemaker by neither aggressing nor avoiding but by addressing.

To the original point, 50 percent of marriages end in divorce.  This doesn’t mean half of first marriages, because there are second and third marriages that end in divorce, and sadly more often.  But even within a long, enduring marriage there can still be much discontentment for the dysfunctional way conflict is handled.

NOT JUST MARRIAGES...

But it’s not just marriages that are ripped apart by controversy with disputes making their way into the public square.  Think of business partnerships that end belly up, best-of-friendships that sour, and work colleague relationships that slowly (or not-so-slowly) become toxic.  The closest of relationships bear the clearest risk that a contentious issue might come between them and separate them violently.  I’ve seen it so many times and, possibly like you, experienced it personally.

Conflict is handled by habit typically.  There’s a dynamic that is set up early in our relationships with others.  Those dynamics are tough to shift, because what’s first required is conscious awareness, then the courage to act to set new habits which are difficult to forge.

When you commence a relationship with someone winsome and charismatic, the last thing you expect when the shine wears off is a tyrant.  See how the most promising beginnings can herald red flags?

There is always a romance phase in every relationship, not just in coupled relationships.

DON’T OVERLOOK RED FLAGS – GENTLY CONFRONT THEM

In the romance phase, we typically overlook those things that will cause us concern and consternation when the relationships drops out of the clouds and lands with a thud on the ground.  Many times, the overlooking is hardly seeing it, or seeing issues and viewing them through rose-coloured glasses.

The commitment and capacity to make peace in conflict means red flags aren’t overlooked, but they are seen and gently confronted.  How else are we to know the other person’s responses before we’ve committed to the deepening of relationship?

Many of the most intimate relationships will only prosper if there’s the ability to talk truthfully about conflict.  This is the only way enduring relationships will not only survive but thrive.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

The gem of strength in weakness through honest authenticity


The gem of strength in weakness through honest authenticity

“Like alchemy, when an element combines with another, otherwise corrosive material to form a benign compound, so the very things that make us unapproachable (like rage or addiction) when combined with authenticity, actually makes us more approachable.”
—Peter Randell

Let’s unpick the wise truth set out above.  For those valiant enough to try it, especially those who are leaders, there’s a secret for growth unearthed in the absolutely paradoxical step of sharing our weakness, our guilt, our shame.

Honestly nothing comes close to authenticity for affording strength in bearing weakness.

Think of the sheer strength it takes to confess one’s temptations, fear, sadness, rage, etc.  One before another, as that which is corrosive to you when you keep it in, like poison, when it’s shared in trustworthy spaces, it gives life to the sharer and to the receiver alike.

Indeed, the receiver observes with their own heart, ears and eyes, that which could have eaten them away from inside, but now because of the other person’s authenticity, INVITES them to share also, and freedom is but a few moments away.

There’s no fear for judgement in sharing openly when another person’s gone first in declaring their struggle.

There’s no corrosive value left in a poison of a hidden struggle when it’s neutralised by the agent of truth.

There’s no power then for the accuser to have his way.  Weakness avowed takes strength and the good Lord honours that courage every time!

This brings life to the idea of “when I am weak, then I am strong.”  Do you know who uttered those incredibly bizarre words?  Yes, the apostle Paul, in 2 Corinthians 12:10.

Here’s where it matters.  When we’re weakest, we’re isolated, and from isolation the mind gets to work, and a sinkhole we begin to sink into.  But as soon as we sense the readiness to connect with another human being, that one also ripe for connection, together with a sprinkle of honest authenticity, that is sharing what is deeply true yet also shaming, life flows in like a river of peace.

What is true in the world of chemistry is also true psychologically through this sociological phenomenon:

Strong acids and alkalis, those chemicals that range to the extremes on both sides of a pH scale, are neutralised discretely by just the right select chemical to produce a harmless compound.

Think of indigestion and antacids.  Relief and comfort come from the sweet authenticity of the truth that’s required.  From the rising pain of the gut up to the trachea comes relief when that acid is neutralised.

Authenticity is the neutralising agent for all manner of maladies.

That’s the power of authenticity.  When you carry truth into your safe conversations, dialogue where truth is welcome, that truth empowers both of you.

One morsel of truth is enough to taste and see, 
freedom’s there in abundance, it’s there for you and me.

Saturday, October 9, 2021

7 Foundational Strategies for Holistic Mental Health Resilience


Before I even get started, I want to say that suffering poor mental health is no shame nor slight on the afflicted.  Indeed, it takes enormous strength to bear such a fierce battle, especially over the longer haul.

Anyone who’s suffered poor mental health (and I definitely have) has the ideal motivation to build upon their mental health resilience.

I’d define mental health resilience as the ability to ride the highs and lows of life in a way that prepares and plans proactively for good mental health as much as possible.

This article is not a definitive guide to mental health resilience, but it’s perhaps one place where a general synopsis starts.  These factors, sleep, exercise, diet, relationships, grief, insight, and faith are a good overall structure that you might find helpful.

I believe these seven factors are the most foundational keys in attaining and maintaining mental health resilience:

1.     Good Sleep

The broader corpus of health and medical science will say nothing is more foundational typically than good, sound sleep patterns.  And our own experiences attest to the value of good sleep.  Ideally adults have 7-8 hours sleep per night, which equals five portions of 90-minutes, cycles of gradually descending depth of sleep.  It’s important that full nights’ sleep are attained consistently, one night after another as a pattern as much as possible, because anytime we’re in ‘sleep debt’ it can take a long while before we don’t feel tired anymore.

Of course, poor mental health is a vicious cycle.  The presence of anxiety or depression usually comes with it disordered sleep/sleep disorders.  I know many people who struggle very significantly with their sleep, and for these my advice would be to learn how to nap and make use of opportunities to nap on a daily basis whenever you feel tired.

Here’s something I wrote years ago on Napping Benefits and Suggestions.  And if insomnia’s your problem, here’s something I wrote through personal experience in developing the technique of relaxing myself to sleep: Beating Insomnia – Getting to Sleep Using Your Mind.

2.    Good Exercise

For so many people, I know this is a truism—good exercise routines alone provide great mental health resilience value.  Exercise is not only enjoyable, releasing endorphins, but it leaves us with a sense of achievement, and the health benefits are vast.  It’s often done with others, too, so it helps us remain connected relationally and emotionally.  It’s never too late to start.  I’ve been a serious exercise devotee all my life, and I know the times I begin to run rough—after I slipped out of the habit of exercise or post-injury.  Vigorous exercise daily or every second day for at least 30 minutes gives best value for mental health resilience.

3.    Good Diet

For Westerners, for those in ‘blessed’ societies, much of the time, we’re cursed by the abundance of food, and particularly when we have issues with self-control, the first thing we lose control of is our diet.  Indeed, we might also give up every other ‘vice’, but we still need to eat, so diet can feel like the last frontier of health.

There is much internal serenity we gain from having a diet rich in fruit and vegetables, less carbohydrates, and pure proteins.  There’s also the issue of portion control, and the practice of eating more calories earlier in the day than later in the day.

It’s a fact that one of the leading causes of good physical health as we age is effective diet, and yet there are many direct and indirect links between physical health and psychological health.

4.    Good Relationships

Phew.  You’ve probably reached this point and thought, “All the above is hard enough, and now you’re telling me I’ve got to do something about this-or-that impossible relationship!”

The truth of it is we can only do what we can do—take responsibility for what is ours to own.  But peace in our relationships carries our mental health resilience to another level, simply because there’s an absence of stress because we’re resolved about how we’ll manage conflict with the persons concerned.

This is where peacemaking in relationships comes in.  Here is a A Flying 7-Minute Guide to Biblical Peacemaking.  The main principle of peacemaking is each person taking seriously their obligation to be accountable for their own contributions to conflict.  It does NOT mean being held accountable for other people’s contributions to conflict.

Wisdom instructs us to avoid divisive individuals, and though we can’t always avoid these people in our families and workplaces, wisdom again helps us avoid pouring gasoline on the flames of conflict.

Who is a divisive individual?  I define them as people who would rather point the finger at others and avoid being accountable for their behaviour than be honestly introspective and own and account for their contributions.

5.    Good Grief

This strategy for mental health resilience is about handling grief.  It’s that capacity to process loss, to face pain, to not ignore it or deny it, to not resent it, but to sit with it, because it can’t crush us.

Grief never feels good, but when you think about it, loss is everywhere, it comes into every person’s life, and therefore it’s unavoidable.

Can grief be good?  I think that when we hold enough space in our philosophy for life that grief might actually be good, we begin to take life’s invitation to plunge deeper into the meaning of life seriously.

I can tell you from personal experience that grief was actually the making of me when I was plunged full force into loss in 2003.  Same for 2014 and 2016.  Indeed, I really think that when grief is good, it keeps us connected to the deeper facets of life, and we can bear a great deal of vulnerability which makes us very much more empathetic.

6.    Good Insight

This is the ability to see the truth, especially our own truth as far as our impact on others is concerned.  Good insight is a blessing to good relationships.  It helps us see the truth others can see and it helps us live a bold life unafraid of the threats and able to embrace opportunities.

Fundamentally put, insight is what separates the mentally healthy of us from the version of us that cannot see all the goodness and blessedness of life.  If we struggle with cynicism, we may struggle with insight, but it’s just the same for people who struggle with idealism.

7.    Good Faith

There are all sorts of faith constructs in life.  The Christian context is one that I would call a good-faith construct in that it delivers to the believer faith in the grace and forgiveness of God, of hope beyond all despair, and of the command to love—an all-conquering love of God that overwhelms our sensitivities for fear, indifference, and hatred.

Good faith helps us in our mental health resilience because it’s bigger than the realities of life that threaten to consume us.  Look at the News, current affairs, social media, and we quickly be drawn into some negative emotional response (depression, rage, disgust, fear).

Simply put, good faith holds us in hope when all we can see is cause for despair.  The truth of it is we need faith in this life to ward against the inevitable stresses all of us face.

~

The fact is, you the reader may not resonate with all of this, but there might be something in this for you.  That’s my hope.  God bless.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

What is a Christian person of peace?


“There is no problem with the wider culture that you cannot see in the spades in the Christian Church.  The rot is in us, and not simply out there.  And Christians are making a great mistake by turning everything into culture wars.  It’s a much deeper crisis.” 
― Os Guinness

Anytime a Christian tells you that ‘you’ve’ got a moral problem, that you’re the one who needs to change, that you’re wrong!, you can know that they themselves are NOT following the God they claim is their Lord.

Jesus was always calling his disciples to humility, to get the log out of their own eye, and worry much less about the speck in the others’ eye.  It was the religious elite who judged everyone according to a human standard of the Law (613 rules), and Jesus condemned them for it, and by way of example, here’s Matthew 23:23 (NIVUK):

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill and cumin.  But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness.  You should have practised the latter, without neglecting the former.”

Our Christian world is still so full of teachers of the law and Pharisees.  And it will always be.  These don’t have the Kingdom in their heart, but their own malevolence and schemes.  They turn people away from the love of God.  They are abjectly misled.

Jesus never condemned a person in their struggle, and he deliberately spent time with the marginalised, not just as their teacher, but as their friend.  He overcame all the typical biases that we all struggle with, and only in his power can we overcome ours.

Jesus’ heart was for the lost, and that is each and every one of us, whether we’re ‘saved’ or not.  We never stop needing him.  That’s the point of faith.

The genuine person of faith in God is a person of peace, walking humbly with their God, knowing they’re no more special, capable for God, or learned spiritually than anyone else.

The real person of faith is a person of genuine constant spiritual reflection, continually turning back to God, able to empathise with their own struggles and others’ struggles constantly, and to attribute to those struggles good thoughts that lead to healthy responses.

The wisest of all insist on nothing and are truly at peace with life as it is, accepting that if God would change it, God will.  The true sage demands nothing of nobody, but they’re an instrument of God’s will, so they never need to get upset if things don’t go their way.

Persons of peace are a delight to be around, for they are fertile soil around which to grow, because they themselves are intrinsically and most interested in how God is growing them personally—because they walk humbly with their God.

Be around people who are strongly motivated to look up to the God who would guide, direct, inspire, and admonish them.  Be around people who have the heart to look within for evidence of error—not out of guilt or shame, but motivated and inspired to honour their Lord who they take seriously in following.

If we’re to strive for anything, it is to strive to be a person of peace, a gift of hope to all.

Monday, October 4, 2021

Prayer for the one leaving a domestic violence relationship


Oh Lord,

There’s the one right now, the one among the millions, but the one You care for and love, who’s right now in mortal danger, and... finally considering leaving.

Be with that one, Lord.

Guide them, counsel them by Your Holy Spirit, with wisdom, the right knowledge for their situation, for help they can access, for AGENCY in their equipping, for empowerment in their action, for Your protection as they open that door and walk out.

Give this one every good step of dutiful preparation before they leave, that their children would be safe, that all vulnerable ones, including pets, would have the assurance of safety.

Give this one Your sweet spiritual refuge AND a place, Lord.  A place to rest their weary mind, their shattered heart, a place to reconcile what’s been done, WITH support from another one who can help them face and recover from those traumas.

Give this one Your hope, Lord, that the journey to recovery would now commence—that it IS worth it, for they will certainly receive the healing they so seek.

Give this one a sense of hope for justice, too, Lord.  That there might be the reckoning that their situation demands.  But unhinge this hope from the hope they themselves can advance upon—that cherished hope for normality to return to their life.

Give this one the confidence of faith against fear for what dread they might receive, and protect this one from that fear that lingers for what the future might hold.

Lord, there are so many things to pray for, but there is the one last thing in this prayer.  Lead those of us who can give, who can provide, who can lead, who are safe, to help this one.  Use us in Your mighty name of Peace.

AMEN.

Friday, October 1, 2021

What if the prophets were listened to?


Prophets did not just exist in biblical times.  They are here today as much as ever.

But prophets are rarely listened to.  They’re more often disdained, stopped, silenced, even hated for the truth they speak.  They’re told they’re disrespectful and disloyal, yet they courageously cannot be stopped from saying what God lays on their hearts.

They speak truth in the public square, and they utter truth in the private courts of influencers and power brokers—advisers whether they’re valued for those roles or not. 

Jesus decried the Pharisees and the scribes publicly, and Nathan rebuked David in private, and these are examples of abuses that went both ways.  The religious elite abused Christ with capital punishment, yet David was so convicted of Nathan’s rebuke he famously repented.

The power brokers so often loath the prophets for the inconvenient truths they speak.  How often do they listen?  I don’t know of many situations they do.

We need more accounts of where a person or people take to courage and face someone in the wrong, where that wrong person does listen, and they do repent.

But those in love with their own power—the hero pastor, the autocratic leader, the tyrant in love with lies—will always justify their wrongs, entitled as they are to ‘rule’ as they alone see fit.  Their massive personality and their crucial personal power wield influence over those who seek to keep the peace at all costs.  The prophet and their truth doesn’t stand a chance so often.

What if the prophets were listened to?  Wouldn’t truth hold sway more often?  Wouldn’t truth be sovereign where instead one person’s warped viewpoint is the idol we revere.

Prophets cannot live without finding a way to communicate truth.

Here is the place truthtellers might be heralded as the prophets they are.

Prophets arise and take up the cudgel of courage instead of the curmudgeon of convenience.

Don’t let your heart be compromised by the concession of cowardice.

Prophets, and I know this well, don’t faint for the task God is calling you to do because you’ve been DARVOed—because the person or persons you’ve called out have Denied your claim, only to Attack you, and Reversed Victim and Offender through gaslighting mainly.  Prophets, you know this all too well.

One of these days we’ll all give an account of what we did and did not do, and the consequences of that reckoning will be vast.  Truth counts infinitely.  When all’s said and done, it’s all that matters.  Nothing that can be seen or known will be hidden anymore.  Justice will be swift.  The only defence is to be a truthteller and a truthabider.

There’s nothing wrong with getting it wrong, for in getting it wrong we have opportunities while we’re alive to make things right.

A call to all: thank a prophet in your life for the sacrifices they make for their stands for truth.

I’m thankful for this one thing: better to live in 2021 with a better appetite for truth than in 2011 when prophets stood less of a chance than they do today.

But prophets will always find a place of not being listened to, and if history can teach us anything, it’s that ‘there’s nothing new under the sun.’

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Deadset discipleship will never do


Discipleship approaches seem to have waned or at least changed markedly in the past decade or so.  I come to this via an obvious personal crisis, not of faith, but of discipleship, and if we’re honest, us ministers, we arrive or remain at this point when we arrive at or remain in our professionalism.  God’s calling us back.

“If we are to be disciples of Jesus, we must be made disciples supernaturally; as long as we have the deadset purpose of being disciples we may be sure we are not.”
—Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, September 25.

We have all arrived at this point on countless occasions, frustrated by a ‘faith’ that seeks to do what only God can do by the “super-natural grace of God.”  In other words, by our ‘works’ of trying hard to be disciples, we get it wrong ever time. 

In the simplest arrangement of thought, it is faith done by works.

It never works, and it always leads to frustration.  “But I’m trying so hard, Lord, can’t you see the effort I’m putting in, I’m doing everything I can, and still nothing!”

Chambers further clarifies this thought: “God does not ask us to do the things that are easy to us naturally...”

God is calling us at every instant to come back to peace, to that neutral place where divine grace can work from; where the divine grace can ‘task’ the individual.

“God does not ask us to do the things that are easy to us naturally; He only asks us to do the things we are perfectly fitted to do by His grace, and the cross will come along that line always.”
—The Fuller Chambers Quote

Frustration ought to be the clue and the cue to stop.

Frustration ought to be the point at which we say, “I’m departing from discipleship here, aren’t I, Lord?”  We may discern a very quiet, “Yes, my son/daughter.   Yes, you are.  Come back to the cross.”

We’re of no use to God unless we walk humbly with our Lord.

Not just Creator God, not just Saviour and King God, but LORD God, our Master, who instructs us and demands our obedience IF we are to be IN the divine.

The simplistic faith thwarts the proud, and it rewards the humble, because God’s power can only work through the latter.

The less we bring to God, the more God will say, ‘Yes, now I’m ready to use you.”

The less of our own abilities, achievements, and altruism (virtue signalling) we bring to the altar, the more God will elevate the truer spiritual gifts that are abundant in each of us for divine glory.

This is a crushing blow to our egos, and God won’t hesitate to meet us every time around the mountain with a self-generated annoyance.  This circumambulation akin to the Israelites circling the desert 40 years is a phenomenon so many of us know all too well.

First decouple from the self, and simply ‘BE’ before your Lord.  THEN God may, at divine convenience (as it should be), from the supernatural, use you powerfully.

Friday, September 24, 2021

How can I bolster my ministry survivability?


Recently I was asked to speak on ministry survivability at a minister’s collective, and because I’m unavailable, I thought I’d lay down some thoughts here that might be useful.  It’s a collection of thoughts and resources mixed with my own experience thus far as a survivor in ministry.

I write this article, now, today, with the full intention of adding to it over the next day or so.

Anyone who’s been in ministry as a pastor or chaplain or missionary for any length of time has faced situations that have called for survival.

There’s a massive range of issues that threaten ministry survivability, from common garden-variety burnout, to mismanaged conflict, to compassion fatigue, to spiritual and other forms of abuse, to a crisis of faith, and truly the list would be endless.

Many of us have been threatened—perhaps all of us—because of conflict that ended previously strong friendships, traumatised us, ended our ministries, or ruined us for a time.  Sometimes a combination of all these.  If we’re not destroyed by the calamities of ministries that end suddenly by others’ manipulative action, we live to serve another day.  What’s required is resilience.  It’s good to take some time out, reflect, agonise, and grow.  You may find your call is clarified through the furnace of betrayal and rejection, and the profound disappointment and disenchantment that comes as a result.

But, if you asked great Australian ministry mentor, Dr Keith Farmer, by far the commonest threat to ministry survivability would be burnout through endeavouring to meet the impossible demands our ministries and our humanity can place on us.  Much of this can ultimately be attributed to attempting to be everything to everyone—all driven by a perfectionism that’s driven deep into us from the traumas of past.

We all bear some trauma, and particularly those who are driven to help and serve others.  The help and service we provide to others came usually because we ourselves were helped and served, and our need speaks of something that impacted us, i.e., trauma.  The trouble is we don’t face trauma well, because few of us are comfortable with admitting there’s something wrong with us.  Of course, trauma is a result of trauma, and it is never our fault.

Much burnout is akin to exhaustion, compassion fatigue and the like.  Again, when we dig deeper down, we find that what sent us to the brink was our agreement that we had to do it all—or that we couldn’t say no.  I know there was a season in my life when I literally felt that invincible through God’s power working through me—it took me 18 months to flame out.  Sometimes we’re in situations where leaders manage poorly and even abusively.  This will always threaten our ministry survivability.

A threat that can creep up little by little is the reverse correlation between faith and professionalism.  The better we get at preaching and pastoral care, the farther our faith appears to us as authentic, and our connection with God and our devotional lives wane.  It takes raw honesty to admit that this has occurred and gentle, encouraging supervision and mentoring always helps.

One thing I’ve consistently found in being pressed beyond my abilities to bear is my call of God has strengthened overall, even as I’ve contemplated giving up ministry a thousand times.  God wouldn’t let me.  And I’m glad of it, because when I recovered, I always wanted to serve God.

My prayer for you is that you’d be equipped by God to not only survive the conquests to your ministry, but that afterwards you would thrive.

The following are some resources that might help:

Blog Article Resources:

Passing the Baton with Dr Keith Farmer

Do you show signs of undiagnosed burnout?

10 sources of exhaustion you can’t afford not to know about (from the ministry of Ruth Haley Barton)

Warnings for when a pastor’s call becomes their profession

Contending with spiritual weariness

Restoring empathy in compassion fatigue

Overcoming compassion fatigue

A flying 7-minute guide to peacemaking