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TRIBEWORK is about consuming the process of life, the journey, together.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Most Important Thing to Understand About Grief

OKAY, I admit it.  I’m a student of grief.  And I’ll never have anything like a comprehensive knowledge of it.  Still, I’m hungry for new insight.  I got fresh insight in a recent conversation from a bereaved father.
He said to me, “Steve, it’s impossible to turn a ninety-degree corner in your life.  That’s why grief is so hard.”  The crux of what he was saying was this.  The most massive change happens in your life, and it happens instantly, and there is no time to recover.  Suddenly something undeniably sorrowful has happened, something that cannot ever be undone — it’s final — and it happens at a rate of now!  What we might find easier to cope with in transition, over say five years, comes instantly; when change comes in an instant, as all losses do, we’re bound to experience grief.
***
They say that time heals all wounds.  And time ultimately does.  We all ultimately die.  But we all tend to adjust to our losses over time — give or take.
This is why grief is just so difficult.  It’s why there’s an ebb and flow in the daily, even hourly, journey for the bereaved person.  There is no moment for a person undergoing grief where they’re able to confidently say they’ll remain in emotional control, let alone are they able to plan for joy.  There is no moment when they can put away thought of their loss, and there is no moment when they can escape the cost of their grief, even if they could forget about their loss.
The grieving person has been asked an impossible question, and their answer will always fall short.  Little wonder there is the boiling over of emotions, and it’s no small wonder that they’re able to hold themselves in public.
***
It’s good to understand that loss takes us on a hairpin bend where we have no time to respond, when we would need months, if not years.
Nobody prospers when they’re faced with instant irredeemable foundational change.  Such change comes as loss, and such change in loss induces great and calamitous grief.
We need to have great respect of any person whose life has demanded of them grief for the loss they’ve suffered.  We ought to greatly revere such people, but not to the point of avoiding them.
The most important thing to remember about grief is how important other people are to the one grieving.  It’s bad enough that life has changed so drastically; it’s fundamentally worse when people withdraw from those who are grieving.

© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Choosing to Make Someone’s Day Because You Can

It should be no surprise to any of us how powerful little kindnesses are in encouraging people having a hard day.
Imagine living in this paradox: life is tough, yet you resolve to throw off the consciousness of your very present hardship, just enough, to give someone a beautiful smile; to that person who just cut you off in traffic.
Or, in being encouraged, you take the time to tell that person... “thank you, do you know how much [the little thing they did] meant? Do you know how inspiring that is to me? Thank you!”
And it’s your genuineness that wins their scepticism over and gets them to trust that you really do want to encourage them for their encouraging you. They experience a very special encounter with another human being.
There’s power in the little things. God is in the little things. The eternal realm is in the little things. And joy, hope, peace, love, and much virtue is in the little things.
Resolving to do the little things you can, to do them well, to do them with pleasure, and to do them because you know that’s where the abundant life is... such a resolution abounds to the heights of a heavenly joy.
It’s a husband doing the dishes and vacuuming for his wife, without her asking.
It’s seeing the opportunity in the workplace, to do a nice thing, yet to do it in secret.
It’s finding someone’s credit card isn’t working and offering to pay, with no thanks or payback required.
It’s the forgiving of a transgression, like someone hanging up on you, and not seeking to even the score.
It’s that voice inside your heart that says, “they must be doing it especially tough today; I think I’ll try to ease their burden a little… I don’t need to get my own back.”
This is where the heart of God is at. This is where God engorges our hearts with a joy that humanity or the world cannot give. In this space, God does a work inside us.
God transforms us by the renewing of our minds when we see the positive impact we can make for His Kingdom. These things done are our good and useful, no valuable, and perfect worship.
God will show us a new thing almost every time we do something kind for someone, especially when we do it without a moment’s thought, and expect nothing in return.
God needs fewer hurt people who hurt people, and he needs more people willing to absorb a hurt in Jesus’ name.
The power of grace works in gentleness; a soft answer turns away wrath, and it avails space for an aggressor to reflect.
A good deed done,
Without any credit sought,
Amounts to one heart won,
Peace in that soul God has wrought.

© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Celebrating with Empathy, Mourning with Oneness of Spirit

COMMUNITY is such a strong word depicting God’s design, for his will is that we would commune in unity.  Sadly, our human history has shown us that a pinch of evil in the stew of life spoils the broth of peace and safety of a life lived together.
We in Australia have no unique problem.  Many, many countries share our heritage over time.  And it’s not just this period of time that this phenomenon of conquest has taken place.  Our ‘settlers’ invaded this land and conquered it in the name of Western civilisation — it’s such a pity that Western civilisation’s way is not always civil.  What makes matters worst is not the genocide that took place, but the fact that Aborigines had lived this land for many millennia.  The people God placed here were ripped from their land by successive generations of colonials — and even post-Federation we have, from time to time, acted as if we were owners because we had the power and technology.
Given the circumstances of the discovery of this Great Southern Land, however, it’s unlikely that our Indigenous brothers and sisters would have welcomed us on this land without resistance.  But not being knowledgeable in anthropology means I cannot know for sure.  I wonder if there was a peaceful way of settling; possibly not.
Whatever the past, we sit in our place and time in history.  We ought to lament that outcomes for the Indigenous are still such a far cry from the outcomes we expect.  We still find racism is rife, just it’s driven down into the fractious fissures of society.  And we’re not far enough on from the atrocities of the Stolen Generations to enjoy any real comfort of conscience.  Indeed, the Stolen Generations rival what we Christians appreciate as the 70-year exile of God’s people to Babylon in 586 BCE – 518 BCE.  That’s both shocking and appalling.  And our biggest sin is, as a society, we don’t pay enough respect to the Indigenous for the brokenness inflicted on them.  Yet we might fairly say “well, it’s not my fault.”  The only trouble with that is, without the piquing of awareness we’re sure to repeat the violation.  But to #changethedate might afford us a better chance at a fresh start.
***
Where does this leave us?  Ought we not be able to celebrate our National identity — one that so many of really do love — especially as we’re so far away from the apparent crises of the world?  Well, because we enjoy the freedom we do, we have such a say over our own consciences, and we do just that.  For my mind I can’t see anything wrong with Australians celebrating our National identity so long as there’s a good appreciation of our irrefutable history and our present dilemma.
***
Until we can celebrate in oneness, empathising with our Indigenous brothers and sisters, our national day will always be sullied.  But the fact that we’re willing to celebrate in oneness now — given that we do empathise — and are prepared to lend our strength and resolve to the work of reconciliation — means we can celebrate in the appropriate way now.
If we’re to celebrate our National identity — and we should — we ought to mourn the ugliness of past and the dilemmas of present.
God help us celebrate everything that makes us a National community, and nothing that divides us.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Friday, January 22, 2016

It’s Because of Me That I Feel Alone So Much

SOCIAL media has helped me to find a way into a lonely and dejected place.
As I look at the connections I don’t have, and even as I criticise myself for the people I’ve unfriended, because I never heard from them, I find myself lonely.  Then there’s the friends I don’t have; those I’ve never been friends with; those I don’t know (but wish I did).  I find myself lonely.  I find myself ostracised by myself.  And even though many of the people I look at have never rejected me, I find myself rejected by them, because I’m susceptible to rejection.
Now Facebook is not the problem.  Hear me.  Facebook is not the problem.  I am.  But that’s not even the end of the story.  It alludes to a great beginning.
You see I’ve always been susceptible to rejection.  Always.  In meeting Jesus, and in meeting myself, and in accepting myself as a broken man in great need of God, I have come face to face with a woeful reality — I am an awfully insecure man without him; but I’m unashamedly broken and confidently fallible in him.  See the discrete difference?
I hid from my susceptibility to rejection for years.  It seemed to have no cost, but it costed me dearly.  It costed me a marriage, but worse.  It costed me the failure of not being able to fully love a wife who needed my love.  I was not the father I could have been.  I had to realise that the thing I feared most stood as the doorway into salvation; the very thing I feared was to become God’s magnum opus in me.
My brokenness is the reason I’m whole.  And all it cost me to be blessed was to admit the truth: I need Jesus, because without him truth is too raw.  Actually, because I know Jesus, nothing about me is that bad that I can’t look it square in the face, and without judgment.  Jesus despatches fear!  Jesus equips us to live our reality.  Nothing else can.
Yet I still endure life in the body and as my flesh rots slowly in ageing I’m reminded that, even though I’m free in Christ, I still live with loneliness of envying relationships I don’t have because of my susceptibility to rejection.  And yet, again, I can write these words as if ‘who cares who knows how empty a person I am’!  I’m unafraid of the truth.  That’s Jesus’ power; evidence of the Holy Spirit.
***
Rejection — the perception of being or having been rejected — causes loneliness.  In loneliness there’s the projection of isolation.  Men are so easily isolated.  Women are too, but I’ve learned that more women than men are prepared to be vulnerable.  I have a passion deep within me to share what freedom there is in casting the anchor of pretension from the ship Intrepid without the chain attached.  Men, you are all beautiful.
***
It’s because of me that I feel alone so much.  But it’s because of Jesus that I’m an instant escapee.  I’m only lonely for as long as it takes me to be aware of what’s missing: Him.

© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

9 Ways of Not Avoiding Someone Experiencing Grief

HOW do we engage with people whose loss has imminence?
Sometimes it can feel as if we want to talk with them, to let them know of our love and prayers, but just as much as we’re drawn to them we’re pulled away by not knowing what to say or how to say it.  Then we’re down on ourselves because we missed the opportunity to share our love in a meaningful way.  Having played safe we’re also aware we missed God meeting us in our faith to love through the interest of compassion.
So just how are we to interact with someone experiencing grief?
1.     Don’t run.  Manage the awkwardness of being in the same space without saying anything.  Nobody expects us to say anything, so where’s the pressure coming from?  Yes, it’s an internal thing.
2.     Be yourself.  Just being there, open in the moment, taking in what comes, is easy if we haven’t preloaded the moment with unnecessary pressure and anxiety.  Authenticity is vital.  It makes you feel more comfortable and it allows them to relax so they might trust some of their burden to you.
3.     Simply ask, “How are you?”  Sometimes we can think an answer to such a question is so obvious; of course they’re awful!  No.  Grief is not always a painful experience.  There are joys, flats pots, and times when we want to talk.  There are times when we just want to be ‘normal’ again.  “How are you” is unlikely to get a terse response if it’s asked with sincerity.
4.     Listen, simply listen.  Listening is easy, but listening doesn’t occur without focus, attention and interest.  Ensure you’re interested enough to actively listen.  Occasionally, make short comments of encouragement and empathy.  This is not only encouraging; it proves you’ve been attentive to what’s been said.
5.     Be careful with clichés.  None of us realise just how quickly clichés roll of the tongue.  Clichés strip care from the interaction.  It’s best to stay silent if all we have is a comment like, “God has a purpose in this for you.”  (There might be a purpose in the loss, but it’s only something the person grieving, themselves, can say.)
6.     Weep with those who weep, rejoice with those who rejoice (Romans 12:15).  Sure there’s a great deal of sadness in the more palpable moments, but sometimes those grieving need humour.  If they laugh, laugh with them.  Try to match their mood a little, and in doing so you’ll love them appropriately for the moment they’re in.
7.     Blend in.  The fact is we notice ourselves much more than others do.  We’re self-conscious creatures.  God will not ask us what’s above and beyond by simply being there in a grieving person’s presence.  Keep it simple.
8.     Seek opportunities to talk more — if they might like that.  Most people who’ve been listened to find it a very cathartic experience.  Don’t be surprised if, when you listen to someone, that they’re incredibly complimentary.  There may be few who can or will do what you’ve just done.
9.     Offer to pray for them.  For Christians this is easy, but for non-Christians it’s an opportunity to say that you’re a person of faith who believes God can help.  Offer to pray — either on the spot or in your own time, or both.  Again, it needs to be stressed that it’s an offer that can easily be declined without any offence taken.  Most people who are grieving are thankful for the experience of prayer.
It’s a loving thing to do to simply engage in conversation with someone undergoing grief because of loss; to listen, to affirm, to care.
Loss teaches us that others move on quicker than the one who suffered the loss. Today, it’s our opportunity to remember someone’s loss and honour them.

© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Monday, January 18, 2016

A Lack of Forgiveness Because of a Lack of Apology

IMAGINE the situation: Christian on Christian: both have committed to Christ in such a way as to love one another as well as to forgive people as much as seventy times seven.  But inexplicably they’re at war with each other.  The devil’s having a field day.  Yet neither is able to let go of the hurt and pain the other has apparently caused.  But, of course, the real situation is neither is truly aware how intensely hurt the other person is; we never are; we just live in our own paradise of pain.
There are many conflict situations that are made impossible when they ought never to have been in the first place.  Many times there’s a lack of forgiveness because there’s a lack of an apology.  Many times people are stuck because a person refuses to own up to a single transgression.  Many people cannot move on because of how someone made them feel.  And many of us have been on both sides of the ledger — we’ve hurt and been hurt.
***
If you’re wondering why a Christian person still has something against you, even though they’re supposed to forgive you, ask yourself if you first owe them an apology.  It may not be the original issue that matters at all; it might be your behaviour.  You may think that there’s absolutely no grounds for an apology.  Well, you don’t get to decide.  In God’s view of things, it’s their perception that counts, not yours.
There’s a good reason why an apology is due.  Bad behaviour quickly transforms a person into a bad person in the perception of the transgressed, simply because of a lack of apology.  Because you’re not a bad person there’s the opportunity to address the issue with an appropriate apology so the transgressed person no longer feels aggrieved.
It doesn’t matter what we think.  It’s what the other person thinks and feels that’s paramount.
***
A well timed and executed apology, one that’s heartfelt and sincere, can cover a multitude of sin.  A good apology received saves grieving the Holy Spirit in a person who would otherwise be happy to have relationship rapport with us restored.
If an apology will set a person free to forgive us we should not delay the apology.  We have an influence over the person that nobody should ever have — the power that grieves the Holy Spirit.
***
One of the greatest powers for love is the humility that says “sorry.”  A person who can say sorry with sincerity is a person whose integrity is undergirded by love beyond themselves.  They readily think of others.
It’s good to enjoy a person’s favour.  Apology is a way of winning that favour.
Apology is a way of communicating how important a relationship is to us.  If we don’t apologise when we need to, we communicate to the other person that we’re not important enough to keep the relationship alive.
When we apologise we communicate something cogent; the relationship means more to us than the issue we’re arguing about.  The bigger thing has trumped the smaller thing, which is the way it should always be.
Love transcends single issues up for debate.  Love in conflict is expressed through apology, because apology is a commitment that sees love overcome pride.

© 2016 Steve Wickham.

How a Guy Named Conrad Taught Me How to Inspire Kids to Learn

LEARNING comes implicitly and in the strangest places when you’re in the Kingdom of God — open to what the Lord’s Spirit would seek to teach us through his disciples and others.
Conrad is, I believe, a disciple (not that that always matters).  I met him at a family occasion to celebrate the Wedding of one of my nieces.  Conrad is on the other side of the family — an uncle of the groom.  He’s a cab driver.  He’s done that for two decades.  Cab drivers, in my experience of them, know how to tell a yarn.  There is an implicit entertainer in most cab drivers, for my mind.  And that’s my preconception as I entered into dialogue with Conrad.  God was soon showing me a new thing.  This was the gist of what he told me:
Steve, I told my kids, when they were 4 and 2, that they had to remember two things about school; two things only.  (Then he spoke in the first person as if I were those children that very day…):
1.     School is about fun.  You’re going to see lots of new things at school; it’s going to be a lot of fun.  They will take you on outings, you’ll play lots of different games, special people will talk with you, and you will have a teacher who will guide you in how to have fun.  School is about fun.  (The imputation of Conrad’s idea of fun was that it was a serious form of fun — a safe and an appropriate form of fun: innocent fun that children enjoy. There’s nothing to fear about school if you believe deep down that you’re there to have fun.)  And the best fun you can have is to ask questions.  If you don’t know anything, shoot your hand up and ask the teacher.  It’s their job to answer your questions.  They want to answer your questions.  So, if you don’t know something, anything, shoot your hand up.
2.     The second thing is to get the teacher’s questions right — as much as you can — remembering that getting things right is all part of the fun.  The more you answer the teacher’s questions right, the more fun you have.  But, Dad, how do we do that — how do we get their questions right?  Well, that comes back to the first point.  Because you’ve asked questions every time you didn’t know something, you’re going to know enough to get the teacher’s questions right.
***
I’m sure Conrad kept reminding his two kids of his instructions; and a sort of oral tradition must have formed.  Conrad encouraged his children to be curious, and curiosity was the ideal accompaniment to courage, for how many children learn not to put their hands up in fear they’ll be ridiculed for asking ‘silly’ questions.  Conrad’s children had a father who got into their heads before fear could take hold.
What I liked most about this precious wisdom is Conrad’s inculcation of fun over fear, and diligence over drudgery, in his children.  He groomed within them an idea of education being a good thing, a worthy thing, as something inherent to life.
How much better might our children do in their education if only the notion of fear were to be replaced with the notion of fun.

© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Those Feelings of Hurt Don’t Lie

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
— Maya Angelou (1928–2014)
THERE are two things I’ve learned about relationships.
The first is that people appreciate you appreciating them.  The second is if you don’t appreciate them you do have another chance: through apology.
These two things I’ve learned hinge on the Maya Angelou wisdom; people’s memories can be woefully non-existent, but when it comes to how we as people experience emotion, we’ve got memories like elephants.  The latent muscle memory of feelings is so potent that it doesn’t matter how much time goes past; a bad experience is rarely ‘forgotten’ and traumatic experiences are etched deep in the soul.
Feelings are palpable, and if we think we’ll get away with our nonchalant dealing with people we’re sorely mistaken.  They won’t forget, just as we don’t forget.  We may know that our Bibles tell us to forgive, and we do wrestle with what we feel, but it won’t change how we feel.
This is why apologies are so crucial.
The power in the apology is so cogent that even if we felt abused we’re able to receive God’s healing grace in order to be able to genuinely forgive.  But where there’s no apology, even a petty transgression leaves us with a non-trusting attitude toward the person who infringed.
Apology is the craft of relationship maintenance; a skill of wisdom that upholds the command, “Love one another as I have loved you.”
An apology is a way of making good on a promise having blown it.  Apology is restitution, it’s understanding, and it’s repentance — all rolled into one.  Even if we made someone feel angry by the way we treated them we do have a comeback in us if we can say sorry, prove we understand, can set it right, assure them it won’t happen again, and seek their forgiveness.
***
It’s incredibly important how we make another person feel in our interactions with them.
A fool has no regard for how they make another person feel, but a wise person takes stock and makes quick amends.
The transgression a person feels,
Either forestalls despair or heals,
Dependent on the whether there’s a sorry,
Either adds to or reduces the worry.
In other words, an apology can heal at the depth of an injury caused by a transgression, but if no apology comes small matters become significant.
If they made you feel bad, don’t give them another chance to make you sad, unless they tried to understand why you’re made, and they tried to make you glad.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Conflict – the Moment Made for Questions

ESTRANGEMENT is an entrapping word.  It brings with it a sense of abandonment of good things; of hope for reconciliation.  Much of the conflict we find ourselves in finds us estranged to the other person, even if it’s for a moment, and that occurs even if they’re our life partner.  And, importantly, when we feel under attack we need a way to handle the moment.  We need a way to influence the situation we’re in; for peace, for understanding, and at times for reconciliation.
Questions are wisdom in a moment of potential foolishness.
There are several good reasons why questions were made for the moment of conflict:
1.     Questions slow the pace of conflict down – both sides need to breathe in the midst of their emotions if there is to be the chance for the rays of perspective to break through the clouds of frustration, disappointment, and confusion.
2.     Questions give space for an unemotional response, but listening comes first – for the person who is receiving feedback it’s just best to listen.  As a person conveys their disappointment with us, and as we listen with interest and patience, even allowing for pauses (if they’re allowed), we give the other person a chance to: 1) be heard, and 2) to settle themselves down a little.  If more space is needed because we just don’t know how to respond, we should feel free to say just that: “I’m still a little confused/overwhelmed, so can I have a think about it and get back to you?”  Most people, most of the time, will understand the need for more time in order to wrestle with meaning and understanding.
3.     Questions facilitate self-reflection – Jesus was the master of answering a question with a question.  But what we must first resist is the urge to say our piece — to defend ourselves.  (Defences almost always fall on deaf ears anyway.)  It’s wiser to resist the temptation to defend, and simply ask questions for genuine need of clarity.  The truth is we don’t have all the information we need to decide what to do next.  But to resist temptation we must first be aware, and nurturing awareness takes time.
***
Wisdom reigns when we have the poise to ask questions in response to situations where we feel attacked.
Questions were made for the moment of conflict.  They slow the pace of conflict down, allow perspective to land and settle, and they facilitate self-reflection.
A question may prove the space of reason over the pressure of forcing an answer.

© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Pastor as Carer (Curer) of Souls

PASTORS, I would argue, are wounded healers: in the business of healing persons in their midst; though they’re, themselves, somewhat and in some ways very wounded in nature.
The Latin word cura means “care,” but it can be shown to indicate “cure.”  According to Eugene Peterson in The Contemplative Pastor, the care of souls is “Scripture-directed and prayer-shaped” — a determination to work at the prime of a person; “to concentrate on the essential.”
Concentrating on the essential is working hard on getting to the core; to strip away allegiances to the superficial; to compel focus and attention toward what is most shimmeringly truthful.
That’s the pastor’s job; to get beyond the task-nature of the relational task, to get away from the transactional ‘tick list’ mentality, and hone in on the person — their wounded soul to care — to teach and instil self-care.
The pastor, themselves, is to be an exemplar of that which he or she is called to do in others — to facilitate such self-care (self-cure) through integrity of personal cooperation (their flesh in subjugation with the Spirit) and Spiritual obedience.  This is not perfection, but it is maintenance; a level of competence to augment health.  That done, in a continual sense, there’s freedom to care for (and cure) souls.
***
Passing the baton is something every pastor wants to do.  There are those that came before them; those that healed their very wounds.  The pastor stands on not-so-rickety shoulders.  And the pastor wants others to serve God with passion, and indeed to answer their own calling: to pastor.  But pastoring is not just about who came behind and who goes ahead.  It’s centrally about healing; about speaking the gospel of God’s gracious power into people’s lives.
They sense their opportunity, and it’s not limited to the church; it’s a Kingdom role.  This means that the whole of life is a series of opportunities for healing to be done, and not one moment is without that beautiful and devoted purpose — we can see why pastoring is a ‘called’ life; few would want to surrender 24/7.
Here is a poem that helps:
What a mighty chance there is in the Spirit realm today,
To give witness to Christ’s work in one person’s soul,
To listen and hear and affirm them toward their goal,
As servants of God, to serve Him, each and every day.
Such ministry to souls is the compassionate care of hearts,
To affirm and encourage them in ways they can learn,
For then there’s the opportunity for them to discern,
Just how others may be healed in other ministry parts.
Anyone who calls themselves ‘pastor’ has committed to the care (and cure) of souls, not least because they bear personal witness to the Spirit’s work done in themselves to that end.
The pastor is a wounded healer; they understand the need in all for healing, yet they accept we’re all wounded.

© 2016 Steve Wickham.