Monthly Archives: January 2010

Doubt: when the clouds roll in

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Tonight I watched a film called Doubt . It begins with a priest telling this story:

 A cargo ship sank one night. It caught fire and went down and only this one sailor survived. He found a life boat, rigged a sail, and being of a nautical discipline turned his eyes to the heavens and read the stars. He set a course for his home and exhausted, fell asleep. Clouds rolled in, and for the next twenty nights he could no longer see the stars. He thought he was on course but there was no way to be certain. As the days rolled on and the sailor wasted away he began to have doubts. Had he set his course right, was he still going on towards home or horribly lost and doomed to a terrible death? There was no way to know. The message of the constellations: had he imagined it because of his desperate circumstances or had he seen truth once and now had to hold onto it without further reassurance?

 This week for me, the clouds have rolled in. There have been occasional breaks in the clouds where I get a glimpse of the stars but most of the it feels like dense fog has descended. All that I thought was secure in my theology and psychology has been blown away. Issues I thought were resolved have come back to haunt me and I know longer am certain about what I believe about God. Worst of all, my biggest question, the one about how can a God of love allow all this suffering has risen its head again to the point of consuming me.

 The question I am faced with is what do I do? How do I proceed?

 Once I read that in times of crisis when faith flees, the thing to do is to act as if your faith is still there until it returns.

 I trust that this is true.

To watch the film clip click here and start at 4mins 20 secs.

Emotional angst: on further reflection…

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Thinking on, my quandry WAS solved this morning…

 As I poured out my heart, the person next to me, not only listened to me but affirmed me and what I said. She really listened and heard me and heard the deep cries of my heart beyond what I was able to put into words. And then she did something truly amazing. She affirmed what I felt and said. She didn’t rationalise or explain their behaviour so that I could see the other persons point of view. Instead she affirmed my deep feelings of hurt and rejection. She acknowledged how hurt I was and affirmed that it was ok to feel this way.

 To me this was a revolution in ‘Christian’ care. Normally after pouring out my heart I am given a verse to remember or told how I need to forgive the other person and lots of other advice but never told that my feelings are ‘normal’ or ‘ok’. So I end up believing that my beliefs and feelings are wrong. Hence, I had stopped sharing them with other Christians and ended up suppressing them instead.

 What is interesting is that after my friend heard me today and allowed me to just speak, I then, of my own volition, acknowledged that the hurt wasn’t intentional and I was able to forgive and let go. All it needed was to be heard and my feelings believed and affirmed, indeed valued.

 Perhaps when reading Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:31 (NLT):

 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behaviour.

 we need to focus on the words ‘get rid’. I have always focused on the fact that rage, anger, etc are bad things to have and felt guilty for having them. Today as I read them now, I realise that that is this is NOT what Paul is saying here. He recognises that these feelings will creep in but the healthy ‘Christian’ thing to do is to ‘get rid of’ them.

 And how do we do that?

 By first of all acknowledging that they are there. We are not perfect, we do all sin. However if as in 1 John 1:9 (NIV):

 we confess our sins, he [God] is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness

 Just reaching this stage has been a huge journey for me. It took me years to truly believe that when I confessed my sins to God he forgave me there and then. I used to hang around waiting for the words of recrimination and rebuke but instead there was silence. Finally the penny dropped. The silence was God’s way of saying that it was done with and dealt there. There was no further word on the matter.

 However that isn’t enough. We also need to dig down and discover what the pain is behind all those horrible feelings and thoughts. Today I was lucky. There was someone there who helped me to find and admit to them but that is a new experience in my life. I have searched and yearned for someone, a friend, that I could be this honest with. Seeing a counsellor, a professional is all very well but they are paid to listen to you. I wanted someone to listen just because they cared.

 As I write this I realise how important this is in our world and our churches. Those of us who are sensitive, emotional people ARE marginalised yet we have so much to offer to a hurting world. Unfortunately, because we aren’t tough, strong, resilient people we are easily discouraged and give up. And that is how I felt this morning; that my attempts to use my gifts and skills within the church had been dismissed. In fact that I had been dismissed. Yet the following verse has also been rattling around in my head:

 Jesus urges us to keep going even when we feel like giving up. (Luke 5:5-6). However he does not expect us to go it alone. It is not about inner strength of our own. Indeed in our weakness is his strength. Today he sent someone alongside to encourage me to keep going when I felt like giving up. It is at moments like this that we become the body of Christ, when we support one another, not when we stand up strong on our own.

Emotional angst: initial outburst

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This week I have reached the emotional wreck stage, subsequent to my dad’s death. I have to admit it isn’t grieving for my dad that is the main issue but the other stuff that has been lurking there beneath the surface for some time, not causing enough trouble so that I have to deal with it. That is until now.

 And so this morning it all came out, the hurt, the pain, the feelings of rejection, the anger, the resentment, the bitterness, the jealousy. It was all there. All those nasty, ‘not good, holy Christian’ feelings. Feelings that I had unwittingly suppressed because I believed that ‘good’ Christians don’t behave like this.

 I have read a lot about our EQ – Emotional Quotient (Intelligence) and how as Christians we should behave and deal in healthy ways with our feelings. Which is fine if you are not an intensely emotional person, fighting feelings of anger and lust and resentment. Today I realised that I have suppressed my feelings because they don’t fit in with the ‘general accepted handbook’ of how Christians should express their deep felt emotions. There is a lot of teaching on the Battle of the Mind and how our beliefs affect our emotions and it is all good stuff. But it doesn’t go far enough. It doesn’t teach you HOW to deal with your ‘sinful’ feelings of resentment and malice and bitterness. The Bible is clear that we need to get rid of them (Ephesians 4:31) but it doesn’t say how.

 And that is the crunch for many us. It isn’t enough to tell us what we are doing wrong, we also need to know how to make things right. And repeating mantras and Bible verses isn’t enough on its own. It may well be the beginning but it certainly isn’t the whole answer.

 And it hurts. It hurts because I want to be rid of my negative, destructive feelings. I want to forgive those who have hurt me, not only in my head but also in my heart. But I don’t know how. And at the moment I feel that I would give anything to have the answer to this quandry.

How do you measure impact?

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 This time last week was my dad’s funeral. As you can imagine it was a very moving experience but the thing that most amazed me of all was how many people were there. My dad was a quiet, introverted man whose idea of fun was going over the allotment come rain or shine, or hours in the attic building and rebuilding his model railway (though lately he had discovered the joys of eBay). My mum is the gregarious one of the two. She is always out and about either lunching with old school friends, on some committee or planning her next exotic holiday abroad. So much so, that if I wish to talk to her then I have to almost make an appointment. My dad it seemed didn’t have much of a social life – watching football with a neighbour and the weekly game of bridge with his cronies.

 So I was astounded when 130 people turned up last week to pay their last respects.

 As I got to talking to these people, many of whom I had never met before, I was struck by how my dad had made a lasting impact on their lives in seemingly little ways: a bag of runner beans there, a tip about how to grow onions there, hints on how to improve at bridge.

 What also transpired that this gentle man had a very dedicated work ethic and words like integrity and honesty, which you don’t hear much of today, were used.

 My dad was not a particulary hands on dad nor given to displays of affection, but that day I realised that he has left me something incredibly valuable: a role model of decency and how to make a difference in small ways. This is a big lesson for me. At the moment I know that I have this desperate need to feel that my life is worth something and that when it comes to be my turn to leave this earth that I would have made some positive impact somewhere. Seeing the need globally with daily disasters on our TV screens it is hard not to feel ineffective. But hearing about my dad I came to think that maybe what I had previously rated as greatness and impact were misguided. Jesus talked about giving out of a servant heart and in secret. So maybe sharing allotment tips and doing your best at work day in day out are as valuable as ‘the big things’ if done with the right heart.

  All my life I have been throwing small pebbles into a large pond and I’ve no idea whether I made even the slightest ripple.  I don’t need to worry about that.  My responsibility was the effort.
-Martha Gellhorn.