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Monday, December 31, 2012

2013 – The Year of Belonging

It’s taken so long to rekindle my longing,
But now that has come to be,
For my joy is made complete in belonging,
Praise God, that I can see.
A New Year’s Redirection
We are all somewhat challenged entering a new year, as we reflect over what has been and what, in fact, might be. Even the most hardened of people will find some significance in a new year, as an opportunity for re-grounding life.
My past five years has been a joy in the writing. I have loved writing every word, editing, playing with nuances of meaning, seeking God in giving me more. The more I prayed for more of God’s words, the more he gave me. At times I couldn’t keep up. Some days I would have ideas for 20 articles. But in the recent few months I have had few and fewer fresh ideas given to me as I sensed God redirecting my ministry focus. A year ago I would have been worried. But for this season I know God is freeing me of the burden of writing prolifically, not that I want to slow down.
I have sensed a movement within my heart from an introverted desire in the mining for words to, recently, over the past six months, an extroverted longing to be connected with other people in real ways, and particularly other men. There has been a renaissance within my soul. I have faced my fears (again).
Entering 2013 is bright with hope, for I do not know, just yet, the intricate details that this New Year holds for me and my family. But there is a sense of unbridled joyous excitement I can hardly contain.
There is an insurgence within my heart to belong. And I do feel there is a place I now belong. My passion, this year, is to extract every nuance of meaning out of the concept of belonging; for myself, for others I care about, and for others I will care about who I may not even have met yet.
This New Year is bright with hope, for the desire to connect spiritual growth toward fulfilment and the transformation of lives—that more and more, people in my circle of influence might say “yes” to Jesus. This just must happen in community. Small groups and mentoring groups and groups just journeying together; serving with one another; and attending to one another’s needs without thought for self: this is my purpose.
It begins in 2013. And within my heart, given what I know now, I’m not sure if there is a better calling. I’m so grateful to God that this concept—belonging, and helping others belong—stirs my heart so much. I can live on this passion. And God will multiply this!
It’s taken so long to rekindle my longing,
But now that has come to be,
For my joy is made complete in belonging,
Praise God, that I can see.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Honouring Old Times Past

At the ending of years,
Counting some with tears,
And some, yet, with sorrow to let go,
We can favour recall of our memories,
If only we hold the future as no foe.
Saying goodbye brings mixed emotions,
And all these put together make plenteous oceans,
There is good riddance, nonchalance, and sadness,
But when we look ever forward in hope,
There is heaven’s possibility; the completeness of gladness.
When old acquaintances are not forgotten,
The times shared; the mutual fondness begotten,
And we raise a glass in delivering a bold toast,
The embracing of truths holds us starkly,
As we recall the memories that meant most.
Honouring What (and Who) Has Made Us, “Us”
As life travels on, and we get used to the encroaching realities—whether we like them or not—we have a golden opportunity in saying a creditable goodbye.
Such goodbyes are not about forgetting important points in the past.
Some goodbyes are not goodbyes at all. Some are merely the recognition of the importance these memories had, and will continue to have, in the history of our lives.
Part of recovering from all sorts of losses is the ability of recall. What a beautiful thing to return to a healed grief! That is God’s gift of being able to honour the loss.
When we can recall things that meant so much to us they may still cause us pain—whether good pain or bad—we are given opportunities to grow into a boldness of remembrance, whereby such losses can be remembered with true fondness as the pain ultimately dims. Healed pain glows with a calming reminder of God’s faithfulness to achieve for us a miracle. We prayed and prayed, and were delivered from the tearing pain of our loss.
There is no fear in honouring old times past, or our losses. The more we recall these memories, the more we say goodbye, the more we may enjoy the freedom of recalling such pleasantries in our history.
Honouring is a grand and thankful activity.
When we have the boldness to honour the truth of our histories—those events and people that shaped us along life’s way—we pay God honour, as well, by validating our truths.
Now, life is about balance. Getting the balance right, regarding honouring the past whilst honouring our futures by getting on with our lives, has an obvious vitality about it.
When we can honour our pasts in such a way that they give meaning to our futures, we have the wherewithal to live life as abundantly as we can.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

The ‘Why’ of Forgiveness

“This is the message you have heard from the beginning: We should love one another.”
— 1 John 3:11 (NLT)
Let’s consider that the aforementioned verse is primary to life here as we take and receive of it.   
Forgiveness is essentially about love.  It is not so much about forgiving the person or people who hurt us as such, as it is forgiving the human nature and understanding both the circumstances and consequences of the Fall—a constraint to which we’re all bound.
This standpoint accepts that intrusion upon human hearts is common to humankind.  It takes God at his Word.  We’re spiritually forlorn without the Lord.
Offense is Nullified By the Facts
Given that there’s agreement that the Fall has castigated us to the realms of both hurting and being hurt, being as it is that it will occur, we’re warned, therefore, to anticipate it.
We’re warned that forgiveness is necessary if we’re to obey God’s command to love.
Expectations are that the people we trust will betray us, for we cannot live and not love, and therefore we will be hurt.
But the offenses sent our way are nullified in truth by the fact: people hurt.  It’s shouldn’t be any surprise when it occurs, but, of course, we are surprised, because we’re so prone to being hurt.
It’s a vicious cycle unless we come back to the fact—we can predict the hurt and cater for it beforehand.  That is, to commit now to the treaty of forgiveness.
The ‘Why’ of Forgiveness is Simple
If we approach this perspective with agreement, like cause to effect, we can understand why it’s important to forgive.  To do so is both dealing with the past and awarding to the future, hope.
Relationships thrive in the seedbed of forgiveness; it’s the language of love.
It’s the only chance we have of reconciling moments and relationships for God’s purposes.  When we understand, per 1 John 3:11-24, that Christ was the example of how we’re to live—giving up claim to ourselves (verse 16)—we finally understand that our hurt is not really the point.
Offense is not the point.
To know the love in forgiveness—and to exact the same result by our dealings with others—is to know the Presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit (verse 24).
Finally, of course, we come down to the ultimate fact.  The Lord Jesus Christ gave himself over to be crucified so we could be forgiven—and so that we, by his example, might extend that same forgiveness to others who ‘crucify’ us.
Love is central to all our lives. When we’re hurt, we struggle to forgive and, therefore, cannot love. This hurts us more than the person we don’t forgive. When we understand that being hurt isn’t the point, but love is, we can forgive.
The ‘why’ of forgiveness is we need to love beyond our hurts so we can enjoy a spiritually-sane life.
The test of faith is to keep loving in God’s strength, not our own.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Exploring and Enjoying the Child Within

“It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.”
— Tim Robbins
Far too many adults had hellish childhoods, whether through abuse or neglect, significant circumstantial suffering, or by being required to live a life a parent wanted them to live, etc. There are countless examples where childhood was the ruination of a life God had commanded and brought into being.
Let’s get this straight: the fact we live and breathe is God’s blessing.
Only by God’s command is it so that we live. Yet, due to many people’s circumstances or carers they had forgettable childhoods that only served to scourge the rest of life, or so they thought.
Let’s turn that on its head.
Knowing God’s Blessing: We Are Alive/Freedom Is Ours!
The fact we live and breathe is God’s blessing. Because it is never too late to turn our lives around, it is never too late to enjoy a beautiful childhood—one that God would have wanted for us. But this would be a childhood in our minds and hearts—a place we can go anytime.
Those who did have horrendous childhoods have probably become accustomed to avoiding enquiry of that area of their lives. Well, to explore and enjoy the child within really has nothing to do with picking at old scars and digging through the trash of the hurts left far behind in our wake.
We are alive and we have God’s blessing.
We have minds that furnish our hearts with wonderful feeling imagery if we will venture beneath the surface of our hurts, into the person God made us to be; to explore and enjoy that sense of childhood that would have been perfect. We can imagine ourselves in the garden of God. In that garden everything is friendly and everything is safe, and there is much joy and peaceful laughter.
In that garden is pure freedom. And fear doesn’t exist there.
We are alive and we have these minds that God has given us. The mind, if it thinks a certain way, can bless the heart in untold ways.
Exploring and enjoying the child within has nothing to do with our childhoods. But it has plenty to do with the way we are constructed by God. There is nothing hateful within us because we are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139). When we discover, afresh, that God in his wisdom has made us for his delight we learn to accept ourselves as we are.
Exploring and enjoying the child within is not about limits. God delimits us from our worldly understanding, as we can enjoy plumbing the depths of our imaginations.
We have freedom in our thoughts. We are not bonded to what we think, though we often think we are. We can break free, because this force for God is abundantly more powerful than any negative force.
The more we explore and enjoy the child within, the more we might enter into God’s courts with the childlike faith, ready to trust and obey. And God would be pleased with that.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Does Venting Anger Really Work?

“For reducing anger and aggression, the worst possible advice to give people is to tell them to imagine their provocateur’s face on a pillow or punching bag as they wallop it...”
— Brad J. Bushman (2002)[1]
According to Bushman’s study, where he had three research groups to observe regarding anger responses, catharsis theory—thinking about the person who has angered us and venting anger using a punching bag or punching a pillow—is nonsense. Such a response only angers us more.
He found that of the groups that 1) did nothing regarding someone else hurting them, or 2) simply became distracted instead of responding, that the group that thought about the person who had angered them, and acted out their rage, actually increased their residual anger and aggression rather than decreasing it.
Punching a bag or screaming into a pillow doesn’t actually alleviate anger.
Furthermore, the group that was distracted (not venting their anger on a punching bag) were less angry than the punching bag group but were no less aggressive. It was only the (control) group that did nothing as a result of their anger, but were required to sit quietly for 2 minutes who had an effective response through the reduction of anger.
Venting anger seems to be like pouring fuel on an already raging fire.
Distracting people in their anger merely delays their angry response.
Doing nothing but sitting quietly for 2 minutes reduced anger.
This teaches us a lot about anger—our mounting anger in response to another’s offence. We are better off becoming distracted than we are thinking on and acting out our anger. But even better is doing nothing in the moment.
So how are we to respond by ‘doing nothing’ in situations that provoke our anger in ways that are effective?
Better Ways for Anger Management
What we learn from this study is that simply sitting quietly, managing our mood as best we can, is as effective as any of us can manage.
Of course, Christians have another technique: prayer. Rather than venting in prayer, which may help at times in the process of grieving, it might be better to sit quietly in our minds and hearts in facilitating the reception of God’s peace.
What delaying our responses in the quietness of our minds and hearts achieves is the facilitation of the higher mind. This frontal lobe part of our brains—the Neocortex—is developed through delaying instinctive responses like anger.
We are better off not acting on our angry feelings, but praying to God for quietness within our hearts and minds, such that our higher minds might advise the right response at the right time and in the right way. Yes, with God’s help, we can train our minds to cope better with angry feelings.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

[1] Brad J. Bushman. (2002) “The Venting Anger Feed or Extinguish the Flame? Catharsis, Rumination, Distraction, Anger, and Aggressive Responding” in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (28:724).

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Discretional Moment of Sacrifice

The extra slice of cheesecake I’m about to devour promises 8/10 in satisfaction, yet in 15 minutes that level of satisfaction will fall to 2/10 as it hits my stomach.  The decision, now, to politely say “no” (to myself) seems like a 2/10 decision, yet in 15 minutes it will feel like an 8/10.
Taking half an hour out, choosing to relax, when there is already plenty to do, feels so good—it promises 8/10 in satisfaction. Yet having spent that time in front of the television, catching a sitcom or a sports program, really is a 2/10 choice when there is work to be done.
The work still needs to be done and procrastination only delays the inevitable.
Working half an hour later at the office or in the workshop or factory, when it is discretionary (i.e. there is no extra income/we don’t need the extra income), seems like a good use of time, until we realise we are lacking in work/life balance. When our spouses and children miss out on us because we are working too hard or too long in hours we suffer—the whole family suffers. It would be a 2/10 choice if we had any say in it twenty years down the track. Many of the (material) things we work extra time for are fleeting and unimportant.
Degrees of Wisdom and Balance
These above, our choices in life, are filled with opportunities at discretional moments of sacrifice. A discretional moment of sacrifice is a point in time when we make a decision; to go the easy way that promises much, but delivers little, or to go the hard way that inevitably delivers what we really need.
Life, generally, is not fair.
We all know this, and yet we still complain. We complain that our lives are too busy or they are not busy enough. We complain because we cannot lose weight, yet we continue to eat how we always ate. We wonder why we have problems with our teenage children, having not spent quality time with them consistently as they grew up. We complain we don’t have enough time to relax, yet we are quick to relax when we can’t afford to.
Life isn’t fair, much of the time, because we make life harder for ourselves than it needs to be. This needn’t be a hard word. We should all relate because we can all relate. We generally all have problems of the above kind.
What we need is the appropriate wisdom and balance in our lives; to work hard and make the hard choices when we need to, so as to enjoy the benefits that ultimately come.
The discretional moment of sacrifice is our opportunity—of one choice in the moment of obedience to the Holy Spirit’s leading—to do now what we should do now, so there are no regrets later. The discipline of sacrifice at the right time is a precious portion of the abundant life.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Calming a Raging Tidal Wave of Anger

Climbing and steaming—a temper to scar,
Heaven help us that we don’t go too far,
What can help in this rage that can cripple?
How do we ensure these bad effects don’t ripple?
Time to engage the rational mind,
And to reconnect with our sadness—it we can find.
Nobody, literally no one, is beyond the variety of rage that sees our rational minds abscond. Whilst we may have a strange connection with our rationality during these times, our choice is to run rabid and, truly, heaven help anyone in our way. So many life-ending and life-changing crimes are committed in such disposition of heart.
Responding To An Unanticipated Reaction
Bouts of rage are likely to occur without our anticipation. So, in a time of great weakness, where our self-control abandons us, we’re hit with a double whammy. We do not predict the event of the rage, nor do we predict how it manifests—how long it will last, who we’ll hurt, or what consequences (lasting or otherwise) will unveil.
We’re all secretly very scared of these types of events. We never want to be on the receiving end, and certainly never do we want be the perpetrator.
But there we have it; suddenly caught up in the event, like a whirlwind, we may be just aware enough to pray—‘Heaven help me and anybody else in the way’ and ‘Please, Lord, let reason return, and quickly’.
We sincerely, at a deeper level, don’t want to cripple anyone or anything and we don’t want the consequences of our rage to ripple into irreconcilable and self-condemning rites of passage. But sometimes it’s so difficult to access this logical depth.
Somehow we must just stop. Best it is to access the truth; this rage has been unfurled for a reason. Just knowing there must be a reason can be enough to compel us to stop, pause, and to commence a search at a level of the mind.
Accessing The Sadness Beneath
Beneath every fit of rage is an inconsolable sadness, one that is sometimes seemingly impossible to access, and one that holds the secret to our healing. As everyone gets angry, everyone has such sadness.
As we learn from our bouts of anger, exploring what happened immediately beforehand, even days ago, dredging back through our minds, and feeling with our hearts, we can look for the sadness—which presents through anxiety, fear, rebellion, or submission, etc through the agency of counter-attack.
Anger is the typical cover for such sadness. We so often counter-attack when we feel attacked. If truth were to prevail on our consciousness we would recognise our sadness for having been—by situation, environment, or person—attacked. And the logical mind would empathise with itself. And the anger would dissipate because the sadness was heard.
Accessing the truth of our inner sadness is the key in responding to bouts of rage. This is about listening to ourselves and being real. It takes courage, but anyone can do it, if we so choose. We get angry for a reason. It’s best we explore it.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

The Means to Love and Happiness

We know we belong somewhere by how others approach us and engage with us; as we approach others and engage with them so they feel they belong.
Belonging is a feeling as much, at least, as anything we can know. When we feel we belong we know we belong.
Belonging is just about as important a concept for life as any.
When we belong—and are therefore loved, or feel loved—we are happy and we enjoy the hopefulness of spiritual abundance. When we don’t belong—and therefore feel unloved and not accepted—we are worse than unhappy. A significant part of us, a social part, shrivels and begins to die.
We need to belong.
The good news is—no matter how much you’ve felt you didn’t belong—the church exists so you can feel you belong. That’s not saying we feel we belong in every church setting, or even most. Many people have been hurt by church experience where they felt they didn’t belong. I’ve felt this many times.
But still, the church is purposed by Jesus to be a vibrant caring community where all who seek God, under Christ, can belong—notwithstanding differences.
The Cause and Effect Nature of Belonging
We cannot truly feel we belong without faith.
This is because, in most situations, people don’t make a special effort to connect with us, just as we don’t make a special effort to connect with other people, either. We are socially conscious beings—perhaps too much—and we shrink from social situations more than we should. We like to be comfortable in our comfort zones.
It’s not like the other person doesn’t like us; it’s because few of us are truly wired to take risks in social settings. The tragic irony is we need to take risks (of faith) when in social situations, because we can only belong when we go out of our comfortable way to ensure others belong.
Yes, that’s right, we fit in when we make an effort to ensure others fit in—when we show some leadership. Such leadership is loving and endearing; it has an attractiveness all its own in the context of belonging.
When others see us loving them, not because we have to but because we want to, they are won to the authentic charisma in such love. Then, their love reaches out to us in return. Belonging, this way, starts from us. Others reciprocate and then we know we belong.
Belonging is our deepest living need. By belonging we feel loved and happy—connected to our world. From this sense of belonging come hope, purpose and meaning. The church exists as a vibrant caring community where all types of people can feel they belong; to each other and to God. We belong to God in any event.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Belonging – Our Great Need In Life

Matters of acceptance and rejection are stark in their extremes. To these two concepts belong the pivot points for life itself, for where we feel we belong we feel accepted and life runs well. But when we feel we don’t belong we feel, even unconsciously, rejected—and for such a time life does not run well.
Belonging is our great need of life.
We could go further and say that belonging to a vibrant caring community (I’m thinking ‘church’) is God’s chief aim for us. There is a lack of fulfilment within us when we feel we don’t belong. But when we do belong somewhere—where we have our home, even possibly beyond home—life takes on an abundance of blessedness.
In belonging all things of love connect.
Where Life Satisfaction Isn’t
I used to connect satisfaction in life with time to myself; principally to write. I was at my ‘happiest’ alone, but certainly with my wife around—she and I, alone. I could think and pray and write. I was with God in my mind without barrier or interruption. I loved moments like this, and particularly full days without anything to attend to other than being at God’s disposal to write.
But there is something very insidious about desiring time alone and shunning the great need to belong. I can only see this having traversed the journey—now, knowing I belong in a church fellowship, I see the unparalleled value of truly belonging.
We can be easily duped by taking from life without giving, and where we cannot give we cannot get—and by contributing in others’ lives, because we want to, God enriches our lives with an abundance beyond anything we could ever take.
Still, the many travel the life path that I’m certainly familiar with. The selfish life of purposeful isolation promises much in the way of independence and the fulfilment of desires, but it delivers little in comparison with the promises of belonging.
Why Belonging Works
There are possibly many reasons why belonging works. But, first of all, belonging requires faith from us. We must risk ourselves to become known in the lives of others.
Certainly we risk rejection.
And this might be the hidden and unconscious key. How many of the isolated fear rejection? How many of the isolated have already been rejected?
But any church worth its salt in Christ is a welcoming place where people will feel connected and blessed nevermore by God. There should be no better place for belonging than church, for there we find unity without the pressure for uniformity. There we are accepted for who we are, first and foremost. Then we know we belong. There our needs may be known, and in surrendering knowledge of our needs, our needs may be serviced and satisfied. This is a great blessing to others, that they may serve us, as we may also serve them in servicing and satisfying their needs.
Belonging works, connecting all of life, by making life—a social construct—make sense.
We all seek to belong and belonging is our greatest need. When we feel we belong life has abundance, but when we don’t belong hateful feelings begin to spring up because we have felt rejected. God wants us to feel that we belong (accepted), because we do belong to life. We will never be truly happy unless we feel we belong.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Understanding Power-Absorbing Love

“Power, no matter how well-intentioned, tends to cause suffering. Love, being vulnerable, absorbs it. In a point of convergence on a hill called Calvary, God renounced the one [power] for the sake of the other [love].”
— Philip Yancey
Power is found everywhere, but all too often it is manifest wickedly. It causes suffering as the power is inflicted over others, whether it is intentioned or not. Such power is on display within most interactions, even (especially) within the family dynamic.
I’ve had family dynamics where certain members have gone out of their way to create a power imbalance and I’ve sat and watched the other family member, who is usually weaker, squirm. We either usurp power or we already have it. Either way it’s wrong to exert power over others, yet it will continue to happen because we live in a sinful and broken world.
But there is hope within the opportunity presented where overtures to power are present. God must hate it when someone abuses power to use it for their gain. Yet he has given us the perfect tool to gain victory over the manipulation of power.
The Hope Beyond Power
We all find the misuse of power very discouraging, distracting, and even enraging. It gets us down and we retort in anger, submit in fear, or take up advocacy. The latter option is best, but only when we utilise a hope beyond needing power; a superior hope: love.
This hope beyond power finds its home in love. And such a thing as this love is beyond the carnal. Love cannot sink to depths below its divine self. The integrity of love is pure and unchallengeable.
This hope beyond power, which is love, is ironical; it seems weak in its vulnerability, but it is ever strong in its dignity of integrity. God honours love and loves to break down forces for power.
Such a thing as this love conquers power every time because it plays by a different set of rules. Love’s rules are shrouded in eternity. They’re unbeatable.
Love like this leapfrogs the need to resist power. It responds to the exercise of overbearing power by absorbing the power, and thereby defusing it. As a theory it seems to not make so much sense. But one genuine attempt at simply loving the person who is weak enough to manipulate us by their power may indicate the true power existing in love, beyond our desire to wrest control.
Power irritates and causes resistance, whereas love is magnetically enthralling. Only one thing can defeat the misuse of power, relationally: not resistance, but love. Ours is the opportunity: to rise above manipulations of power by the power of love.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.