Category Archives: how on earth does life work?

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.

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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.

 

Accepting life as a cracked pot

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The Tale of the Water Bearer and the Cracked Pot

In India, there was once a water bearer.  Every day he would walk down to the river with a pole across his shoulders, carrying a water pot on either end.  One pot was seamlessly round and proudly carried its load all the way back to the village.  The other had a crack and water dripped from it so that by the time the water bearer reached the village the pot was only half full.  This pot became increasingly upset as it watched the precious water leak away each day.  One day, the distraught pot could bear it no longer and spoke to the water carrier.

 “Oh master, I am so sorry that I am not able to carry all my water back for you.  Every day I waste so much.  The other pot does a so much better job than me.  I am so sorry.”

At these words the water bearer gently replied, “as we walk along each day have you seen the flowers that grow by the side of the path?”

“Why of course,” exclaimed the pot, “how could you fail to notice them?  They are beautiful.”

“Quite so,” continued the water bearer, “but have you observed that they only grow on your side of the path?”

“No,” said the pot, “I had never considered that.  But now that you mention it, that is so.  How very strange.”

“It is not strange at all,” responded the water bearer.  “I knew all along about the crack in your pot and so sowed seeds along that side of the path.  As you have dripped water each day you have watered those seeds and enabled them to grow in healthy, beautiful flowers that everyone admires.  Without your leak there would have been no flowers.”

 ~*~

 I have spent most of my life looking at other apparently ‘perfect’ pots, comparing my cracks and chips with their supposed flawlessness.  Many of those that I know seem so ‘together’, striding through life, able to weather life’s storms, whereas I am easily knocked off balance.  I do not have their capacity to ‘just get on with it’.  Often I feel like the cracked pot, not only letting others down but God as well.

 Yet time and again God is so incredibly gracious, gently reminding me that God looks at us with different eyes: 

 The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

1 Samuel 16:7b (New Living Translation)

 I struggle with fatigue, and easily become emotional and overwhelmed by circumstances.   After years of trying to fit in with what I thought I should be – tough, buoyant and resilient – it seems that my role is not to be dynamic but instead to reach out to others who struggle.  My own limitations allow me to empathise with them in a way that would not be possible if I was ‘strong’.

 God’s criteria for valuing our worth has nothing to do with how we look, by what we earn or even how much stamina we have.  He has a totally different perspective:

 But God chose the foolish things of this world to put the wise to shame. He chose the weak things of this world to put the powerful to shame.What the world thinks is worthless, useless, and nothing at all is what God has used to destroy what the world considers important.

1 Corinthians 1:27-28 (Contemporary English Version)

 I am slowly realising that just because I cannot work full time and do some high powered job or ministry does not make me less of a person in God’s eyes.  I have been created for a different purpose altogether.  Much of what I do as a mother, home maker, work colleague and volunteer is on the sidelines unseen and unpaid and therefore seen as less significant.  But my role is often to look out for and listen to others, especially those who have cracks and flaws too, and support them in their journey to become into whatever God had created them to be. 

 God created diversity and we are all made to be different.  He creates different pots for different purposes.  

 I need to remember: I am not less because of what I do.  I am just different.

 

It’s not about doing great things, but about doing small things with great love.

~Mother Teresa~

 

 

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~

 

If you too are a cracked pot, let me know how you deal with it.  It would be good to know that I am not alone in this.

Jo

The elephantness of God

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elephant and blind menThere is a tale from India about six blind men who wish to discover what an elephant is. Since none of then could see the animal, each one was given a different part to touch. The first man holds onto a leg and says an elephant is like a tree trunk. The second touches its tail and thinks an elephant is like a rope. The third holds its trunk and so says a snake; the fourth says a fan because he is touching an ear, the fifth feels the animal’s side and says a wall and the sixth likens the elephant’s tusk to a spear.

The moral of the story is clear: each one of the men only hold a small part of the truth about an elephant and therefore in order to get a larger and more accurate perspective they needed to share that knowledge and listen to one another.

From a Christian point of view it is easy to translate that into our perspective on God and life. God is SO big and awesome and beyond us that we hold onto to the little bit about God that we know and are sometimes scared to take on someone else’s experience and perspective because it challenges our own. For example, I am very happy with the gentle merciful side of Jesus which:

“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

Matthew 9:36

Yet I am extremely uncomfortable with subjects like judgement and hell. I know they are there in the Bible and have to be addressed, so I listen to them, trying to take them on board but they don’t sit nicely with the gentle Jesus I am more at ease with. This is why we need the body of Christ. We all have our own take on God and life. None of us has it pinned down so together we have a much richer and more accurate reflection of God’s nature.

HOWEVER the main point of this post is not about that. My real point is that some of us need to hold onto those parts of God that we KNOW are true in the face of opposing viewpoints. And sometimes the heaviest opposition we face is in church itself. When week in week out I am presented with sermons about how you need to be doing more to becoming transformed like Christ or doing more to serve him it is easy to lose touch with God’s key messages to me this year:

§ Stop striving, instead relax and receive

§ Sit at my feet and listen to me, like Mary of Bethany

§ Learn to live by the unforced rhythms of grace

These are not messages of doing but of being. I ‘do’ best when I focus on ‘being’ with God and ‘being’ myself with him, often gut wrenchingly so. So many times I have come home torn between between what I have personally think I know of God and what I have been told from the front. I end up confused and generally convinced that I must be wrong somewhere, that my experience is false in some way.

Yet there is a positive side to all this: it forces me to go further into God searching for answers. Asking for truth about the matter – his truth not mine or someone else’s. Sometimes it comes quickly such as a verse which leaping out of the page. At others there is no reply and I learn to live with the ambiguity of life but safe in the knowledge that I sought to find answers which in itself gives me an element of peace about it all.

Through it all I am learning to trust the part of God that I know to be true. It is hard and there is much refining to be done and many more parts to discover – however we need to start somewhere with God, whichever part that may be for each of us.

And in the end I just come down to trusting that the God’s elephantness and grace is big enough to make amends when I am blind and deaf to truth.

So which parts of God are you hanging onto or just beginning to explore?  Which ones are you desperately trying to avoid?  Let me know

Jo x

Forgiveness and Justice

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If like me you struggle with forgiveness read this article.  It is awesome.  As a result of reading I am finally able to let go of the past.  I hope it helps you too.

…It may seem odd to connect forgiveness and justice. Sometimes we even think of forgiveness as a way of nullifying justice or of making an exception to it: “Yes, justice demands that you be punished, but I forgive you instead.” This has something to do with the way we usually think of justice…

To read the whole article go to explorefaith.org – Forgiveness and Justice

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