Tag: #friends

Jesus goes out of his way to specifically find you (Mark 4:35-5:20)

Sometimes to me, the concept of “Jesus loves you” can feel a bit impersonal. It’s not an impersonal concept of course, but there can be something in us that stops us from thinking it applies individually and personally to ourselves. We might understand it intellectually – I understand that Jesus loves us as a group, enough to die for us even. But I find it harder to apply the concept to myself personally. Jesus loves me? With all my issues and sins and general losing-at-lifeness?

If this is you too, I feel you. I know it because the Bible tells me. But I find it hard to believe it because I know me.

But what today’s Bible passage shows us, is not someone telling us that Jesus loves us. It’s Jesus showing us he loves us – and specifically seeks people out, even in all their worst kind of mess.

In Mark 4:35, after teaching the crowds on the kingdom of God, Jesus says “Let’s go over to the other side.” That is, he wants them to cross the Sea of Galilee and go to the Decapolis, a series of 10 towns in what was a Gentile area. When a violent storm erupts, the disciples are terrified and Jesus sleeps soundly. They wake him and he calms the storm with a word.

Once he was rebuked the storm, Jesus turns and rebukes the disciples. “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?

I find this very challenging. Because I fear a lot. I fear for a million things over my kids. I fear not having enough money to pay all the bills. I fear making mistakes at work.

What Jesus says is that the disciples fear is evidence of a lack of faith. If they understood who he was, they would not fear. The disciples do not yet fully understand who Jesus is, and Mark uses this to great effect as a literary device to bring the reader along the same journey. The way the disciples pose the question “who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” places the reader in their shoes so they too are asking the same question.

Of course only God rules the waves. In Psalm 89:9 it says “You rule over the surging sea; when its waves mount up, you still them.” It’s similar to the the Pharisees having asked “who has the authority to forgive sins but God alone?” when Jesus interacted with the paralysed man. So the reader is starting to get it, even if the disciples are a still a bit slow.

For me though, I need to re-remember who Jesus is – because I do know, and yet I still fear. Fear is very natural, and it’s not as though we’re not supposed to fear. But for us, fear should be a prompt to take things to God. Mental note to self: when I feel the fear, don’t start furiously plotting and planning and organising. Take it to God.

When they get to the other side, they are at a cemetery and a man possessed by demons comes to meet them. This figure is one of the most tragic in the whole Bible. He had been bound hand and foot with chains, but in his demented state had torn them off. Can you imagine? So tormented that he had actually torn iron shackles from himself. He must have been covered in cuts and scratches and blood and dirt. He was so anguished that at night he would cry out and self-harm, cutting himself with stones.

He sounds terrifying and tragic. If I saw him on the street – a drunken crazed man covered in cuts, I would avoid him and get away as quickly as possible. Everything about this man should have made any Jew run a mile – he is demented, he’s a gentile, he lives among the dead and he is covered in blood. Jews are not supposed to associate with Gentiles. Blood and death make Jews ritually unclean. And yet Jesus has specifically gone to find this man. How do we know this? Because they broke away from teaching the crowd to come here, and when Jesus has healed the man, they get back in the boat and go back (5:21). Which means Jesus had done what he went there to do. Which means that Jesus specifically went there to find and heal this man, and then leave again.

This isn’t me being told Jesus seeks out individuals. This shows me.

This shows me he has and will come specifically to find me where I am. It shows me that in all my mess, in all the things in my life that I see as unclean, impure, messy, shameful and embarrassing Jesus will walk through them to save me. To save me.

I need to remember that Jesus is that personal. I need to remember that he is that powerful. I am his and he is mine and when I fear, I am lacking in faith in who he is. When I fear (which I will) I need to remember who he is and the power he has. He has the power to calm the wind and the waves. He has the power to calm me and my fearful heart.

I need to practice this so the trigger to turn to God (instead of relying on my own ability to overcome the fear with planning and organising things) becomes instinctive. This is a part of the process of growing as a disciple of Jesus. It is part of re-visiting who Jesus is and what he came to do through Bible studies like this. I must always keep reminding myself that God is far bigger than I imagine him and far more personal.

Huge and transcendent, and yet close and personal.

Everywhere for eternity and yet close by my side.

Loudly present in our world, and yet quiet and still in my heart.

This is who Jesus is. This is our God. And this is who came to find us, personally and individually. This is the God who specifically sought you out.

This blog is a stand alone piece but it is also part of a weekly online bible study. If you have missed any or would like to reference back to the beginning, the links are below:

  1. Week 1: “Who do you say I am”. Introduction to the gospel
  2. Week 2: The Beginning. Mark 1:1-20
  3. Week 3: The Who, the what and the why. Mark 1:21-45
  4. Week 4: Jesus didn’t come for the super-religious. He came for you. Mark 2:1-17
  5. Week 5: There is nothing you can do to start – or stop – God’s plan. Mark 2:18-28
  6. Week 6: Jesus wasn’t the man they wanted him to be. Mark 3:1-12
  7. Week 7: Jesus made us a new family – does church really feel like that? Mark 3:13-35
  8. Week 8: Is fruitfulness something we do or something we are to be? (Mark 4:1-20)
  9. Week 9: What will the kingdom of God be like? (Mark 4:21-34)

Why “Meet Me Where I Am”?

Some of the best pastoral care I’ve had over the years has been within my church small group. I love everything about small groups – a group of women, meeting weekly, digging into the Bible together, praying for each other, eating an inordinate amount of snacks together, crying, laughing, learning and growing. Within a group of women like this, we truly do life together. We get each other. We can sympathise and minister to each other with all the raw honesty that is needed and without any “Sunday church politeness”.

The most troubling pastoral care I’ve had is when people have tried to meet me where they are, not meet me where I am. What do I mean by this? When someone comes to us with a pastoral issue, we can sometimes instinctively do any of the following:

  • Try and solve the problem without listening to the full extent of the issue;
  • Question the viewpoint (Did that really happen? Isn’t that over-reacting? I wouldn’t have taken it like that. That doesn’t seem to me to be that big of a deal. I know the other party and they probably didn’t mean it. Is the problem that your husband is away for work? Is the real problem that you’ve forgotten to take your antidepressants? Aren’t you being overly emotional?);
  • Jump straight to a Bible passage to try and make the person feel better.

All of these, as well meaning or as accidental as they can be, actually meet the person where we are. What do I think about this situation? If I would react in X way, but the person is responding in a Y way, I’m going to pastor as though you should be responding in X way, because that’s the way I understand the correctness of this situation.

This is problematic. And it can contribute to a feeling that churches are disconnected from reality. Great theology, but lacking in understanding and grace. Meeting people where you are inhibits trust (and actively promotes distrust). It makes people feel misunderstood and at worst, not cared for. It can build a picture that there is a disconnect between the pulpit and the pew – which is a sad assumption that the general populace have of the church anyway, without us accidentally contributing to it.

It can also become self-perpetuating. This kind of pastoring creates barriers. It stops open communication. It makes people feel they can’t be honest in revealing themselves. So they hide. They hide behind their polite-Sunday-face. And the issue gets hidden. Down deep. Where it festers and spreads like a cancer in the soul. And all the while, growing a resentment towards the church because you feel like they don’t get you and don’t hear you.

Women need to feel heard. And they need to feel valued. Good pastoral care is not reactive when a crisis has happened. Good pastoral care is walking through life with them on the good days, and sitting with them in the darkness on the bad days.

Great pastoral care is knowing people enough to know what to pray for them – on the good days and the bad.

Jesus didn’t meet people where he was – and if anyone had the right to do that, it was him. Jesus met people where they were. In Mark 5, Jesus went to find the demon possessed man. He didn’t judge the mans situation and how he got there and he didn’t question if things were really that bad. He met him where he was.

When, in Matthew 9, the woman who had been bleeding for years approached him secretly for healing, he didn’t judge her condition even though, in Jewish culture, it should have been personally distasteful to him. He met her where she was.

When in Luke 7 a woman come and washes Jesus’ feet with her tears, Jesus does not judge her or question her or solve her problem with a vague scriptural platitude. He meets her where she is.

The reason I called this blog “Meet Me Where I Am” is because that’s my plea. And it’s my prayer for every woman. Real women have real problems. We have mental health issues. We struggle with our faith. We struggle with our confidence. Sometimes we snort when we laugh. Many of us have kids and now avoid jumping up and down. We struggle with our weight. We can’t wait to take our bras off at the end of the night. We love Jesus. We love the Bible. Sometimes we cry in the shower for no reason. We want to feel valued. We want to have a voice.

We love our churches. We have wonderful ministers and pastors and Christian sisters. But we want to be met where we are. We don’t want our pain to be questioned or a quick solution presented. We need pastoral care to be as important as the pulpit. We need theology and humanity.

And let’s not forget – women make up over half of our churches. If we support and nourish our women, we support and nourish the whole family. On top of that, women are seed sowers. We talk to everyone. We connect with people far beyond our immediate landscape. If we make our women feel valued, they will feel confident. If they feel confident, who knows how many seeds they will sow?

I have had the benefit of being around some wonderful ministers and I’ve been around some others with a few blind spots – nobody’s perfect. This is a general plea and prayer for all though. Meet me where I am. Meet all of us where we are. Let your growth in Christ-likeness include putting the self to one side when pastoring a woman. Resist the urge to solve or question. Just let us be heard. Be real with us. And let us be our real selves with you. The church will be enormously enriched by it.

Why you can be fine on the outside while you’re crumbling on the inside

There’s a popular meme that says “Be kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” This is true. But what is also true is that many people are fighting a battle that even they know nothing about.

This is because we, as individuals and as a society, have a conditioned response to difficulty and trauma that is to downplay or to deny. This can be the response to people dealing with everything from anxiety and depression to burn out to the loss of a loved one, a car accident, sexual assault or even group trauma in response to terror attacks, war and natural disasters. Visual cues are less easy to downplay (and have resulted from something obvious) but the internal scarring and struggle can be invisible, even to the people bearing them.

How can this be? Prior to my marriage ending, I didn’t realise I was in a traumatic situation. I knew I was hurting. I knew I was miserable. I knew I was losing hope. But I didn’t know I was living in a situation that has a name in text books. When it was pointed out to me by a professional, I found it hard to believe. When my marriage ended then, in many ways it’s understandable if other people found it hard to believe too.

Many people are burdened with internal unrecognised and unnamed struggle and trauma. A friend of mine who works in the industry, told me that up to 90% of the women she meets in a professional capacity do not recognise that they have, or are in, something that has a name. Each are struggling with unnamed trauma. As a result of the event/struggle/trauma itself, there are also the responses to that trauma – there are flashbacks, nightmares, unexplained anxiety, over-worry, overwork, burn out, loss of self-esteem, lack of hope, depression – and all downplayed by the sufferer as “just those things we have to deal with”.

Because we just “deal with it”, people see our day-to-day faces. This can go on for years. In her book, Trauma-Sensitive Theology by Jennifer Baldwin, she notes that “When the intensity of the crisis remains below the threshold of resources and coping, crisis events are generally processed by our innate resources.” This means, we can go years dealing with internal battles because our innate coping mechanisms are high enough, and the level of crisis just low enough, to allow us to function on a daily basis. This is where our meme comes in.

BUT when our coping resources lessen, and/or the crisis increases in frequency or intensity, we lose the ability to function properly. That’s when people start to see it and can be surprised by its suddenness. What they don’t realise is, it’s the tip of the iceberg and 90% of the issue has been below the water line all this time.

What they also don’t realise is that this loss of functionality can be a shock to us too. When the walls come crashing in, the trauma needs to begin to be processed by the sufferer. What that means is that responses to the sufferer after the walls fell in can add to the trauma. The sufferer bears the burden of processing the trauma, as well as the burden of people’s response to the trauma.

We must not add a burden to our sisters and brothers. We must see the nuance behind the meme. The Bible itself gives us its wisdom: “Even in laughter the heart may ache.” (Proverbs 14:13). There is no denial of struggle here. There is recognition that people may be in the deepest pain but not show it on the outside. If we treat each other with patience, kindness and goodness though, we provide a solid foundation for re-building or strengthening a persons coping mechanisms. At worst we help people to function every day. At best, we support them in building their new resiliency in Christ.

As Jennifer Baldwin says, resiliency isn’t “going back” and living as though the struggle never happened or doesn’t exist. Resiliency is finding the courage to process the wounds and find new ways of living authentically. We can help people to do this.

The important key is the ratio of coping mechanism, to the threat of overwhelm. In other words, we need to keep the situation of struggle in check, and/or, we need to build a persons coping mechanisms. Many people cannot change their situation – parents with high needs kids, single parents, people carrying anxiety and depression to name but a few. These situations may not change, but can at best be managed. We can help them. This might be acts of kindness and material help, but more often than not it might be acceptance of the person, acknowledgement of the trauma or struggle, treating the person with compassion, and always prayer.

We can also build someone’s coping mechanisms. The Bible’s wisdom and the early church is built for just such a purpose. In general, our faith is a corporate affair. It is meant to be lived together. We meet at church, we join together at small groups, we do life together. This is fertile ground for interpersonal support and growth.

There is much more to be said about growing in resilience. But the foundation of it is to recognise that we have the power to add to someone’s burden, or add to someone’s journey of recovery. Be patient. Be gentle. Be kind. Against such things there is no law.

And if you are reading this and you are struggling with trauma or trauma response, please know that you are loved and believed and accepted. If you can feel your situation getting the better of you, please seek help to review it and manage it and change it where possible and appropriate. As a single parent working full time, I’ve done things as a simple as getting my groceries delivered because dragging 2 kids around Coles was adding to my stress and sense of overwhelm.

If you can feel your coping mechanisms crumbling, please seek the help and support of Christian sisters or brothers, and if need be, a professional.

Above all, please please be in God’s word. He is Lord and he is alive and he lives in you. Know it, and know that you were known and loved and accepted before you were even born.

Notes:

If you’re a reader, I can recommend Change Your Thinking by Sarah Edelman. She also has a new book coming out in June 2019 on managing anxiety.

If you are in ministry (and if you’re interested), Jennifer Baldwin’s book Trauma-Sensitive Theology is a must in seeking to equip ministers to understand trauma.

What if you could see yourself the way others do?

Is confidence seeing yourself as others do? Or is it seeing yourself as you would like to be seen? Is it being fierce and fabulous or quiet and sure? Or is it just being content with the way you are?

The point may be moot since I’ve never met a woman who was completely confident in herself. We may be confident in some areas of our lives and looks but not with our whole body and life, and not all the time. There’s always something we’d like to change. There’s always something we’d like to do better, or more of, or less of.

Some of these insecurities run deep. Some of us take prescription meds to function. Some of us self-medicate in other ways. Some of us try and hide what we don’t want people to see. Some of us just can’t bring ourselves to believe what others tell us. Why? Because it’s arrogant to believe we’re great? Because its vulgar to brazenly accept compliments? Because we can’t, in the deepest darkest places of our hearts, believe that kind of thing is true?

Not me, we think. Not me. And we laugh a little too hard, or shrug it away, or blush and change the subject. All the while we live our lives in clothes that are a bit too big, so we can cover the lumps and bumps, and not saying things because we might show ourselves up, or saying things we don’t mean so people don’t find out what we really think.

It’s all about hiding. As though if people saw or knew the real us, they wouldn’t like it.

As Christians, there is an extra anxiety. In the book of Romans, it says “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8. Not me, we think. It’s a knee-jerk reaction in our brains. Not me. God couldn’t love me. Christ didn’t die for me.

We know in our brains that God loves us. But believing it is something else.

Why? When God has shown his love by sacrificing his own son to bring us to him, why would we doubt for a second his love for us?

You know, I think its because our faith is in ourselves rather than in him. That sounds wrong because surely with low self-esteem, we have no faith in ourselves! But actually, if we believe our self-talk rather than God’s, what does that say? Our faith is in what we think about ourselves, rather than what God has explicitly said about us.

I have been learning a lot lately about life and faith and courage. I feel stronger in spirit and closer to God than ever before. And yet, in my head, I am a lumpy old potato. That is not how God sees me.

A friend recently bought me a make-over and photo session. I would never normally do something like that I have to admit I was terrified and cried a bit too – I knew I wanted to look fabulous, but there is the whole potato-truth thing. There is no photo that can cover that up.

Well, I did it. And it was hard. But it was so worth it. It really made me question where self-image comes from, and why I find it so hard to believe God over myself.

So how do we believe it? Here’s my thinking:

Give it time. You can’t believe something overnight. Especially something as intensely personal as this. Allow it to percolate through your thinking over time. Which leads to my second marker;

Think about it. Don’t avoid thinking about it. Actually make a point of ruminating on it. Thinking about it repeatedly makes it normal, and it needs to be normal.

Take the focus off yourself and put it on God. Let’s stop thinking in terms of what I think about myself and instead think about what God thinks. Write it down. Writing it down makes it concrete. You can go back and look at it in black and white. It’s real.

What would you write? Try thinking about all the amazing things that you do and are. Here’s some starters – God sees me as:

  1. His child
  2. His chosen one
  3. A mum
  4. A woman who can make my kids feel better just by hugging them
  5. A woman who strives to learn about God
  6. A woman of enormous curiosity

Try it. Keep adding to it. If you’re so inclined, scrapbook it. Add pictures. Draw on it. Do it with friends if you find it too hard to start. Do what you like. But on those days when you need it, go and review it and know that the list is written in your hand, and be inspired by how God sees you and your ability to see it too.

Finally, know that having confidence is a quiet thing and its not a forever thing. It is quiet because it is a calm knowledge of how God sees you, which will always be better than we see ourselves. And its not a forever thing because it’s not like we can “get confidence” and then keep it forevs. It rises and falls, it ebbs and flows. There will be good days and bad days. But not for God. “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” Ephesians 1:4

In the meantime, here’s what a lumpy old potato looks like when you put make-up on it.

Where is the line between venting and gossiping?

What is the difference between venting and gossiping? One can be good and healthy and if done right, can diffuse the tension in a situation. The other can be hurtful and toxic and actually inflame a situation. We know this in life, but the bible tells us in no uncertain terms as well. Bear with me.

Most people would recognise that gossiping is bad. But lets pick this apart because there are two types of gossip – there’s passing on rumours about people or there’s airing grievances about people.

Passing on rumours is talking about people behind their backs. It can betray confidences if it was a secret told to you, or it can just be passing on (and embellishing) a rumour about someone – something that might not even be true. It can destroy people.

Airing grievances is putting our spin on people and events. It builds the tension by ascribing motive and emotion to others. It builds the story. It can be about controlling the narrative. It’s about being validated and feeling right. It can spread like a poison and infect others.

And yet, we all seem to be drawn to do it. Gossip has a special pull. It’s exciting. It’s dramatic. It’s validating. It makes special secret bonds. It makes us feel like we’re “in” or even at the centre of things.

Venting can be good. Some of us can process things internally and so don’t need this. But some of us, in the face of hurts or frustrations or disappointments, need to air them to take the sting out. Without airing them, they can grow resentment within us. We can mull and stew and replay and rehearse in our minds those events. Which means we feel those hurts and disappointments over and over and over again. And that’s what grows a bitter root in your heart.

But where does venting, which can be healthy and useful, tip over into gossip?

The book of James pulls no punches and particularly in this area. “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.” James 1:26. Woah.

OK. Here’s what we can do:

1. Recognise that we like to gossip. Just know that as human beings, its something we are drawn to. It’s like admitting the problem is the first step to dealing with it.

2. If you have interactions with people who want to gossip to you or with you, its alright to say that you’re not comfortable to talk about that. Gossip only has power if you give it an open door – shut the door.

3. Be a trustworthy person. If you are told something in confidence, keep it. It’s an exercise in self-control, just like holding in the wee’s when we need to go to the loo. If you feel the need to do a wee, hold it til you get to the bathroom. If you feel the need to share a confidence, hold it in. We are better at self-control than you think. “A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy person keeps a secret.” Proverbs 11:13

4. Put boundaries around your venting. Learn to recognise what is a legitimate airing with the specific purpose of diffusing the hurt and what is you starting to build and inflame the story. If you are the one listening to the venting, its OK for you to put those boundaries up as well – you can be a wise venter and you can be a wise vent-ee. You can give someone air time but gently pull them back in when they are going into gossip territory.

5. Agree with your wise friends to mutually self-check. If you are talking about shared hurts, you can stop and ask “Are we gossiping now?” And if you think you are, or in danger of it, change the subject.

6. When you vent, choose who you vent to wisely. Choose someone who will deal with you lovingly but wisely – don’t deliberately choose someone who will just validate you. We want someone who can help us diffuse the hurt and give us wise advice.

7. Don’t be a poison. None of us mean to be. But we can be. If we gossip rather than vent, we can infect other people with our negative emotions, and we can start feeding off people’s reactions. This is difficult but something we need to be aware of. “Without wood a fire goes out; without a gossip a quarrel dies down.” Proverbs 26:20

8. Recognise that venting has to go somewhere. Once the hurt is aired, it has to be done. A wise friend can help by asking “So what happens now?” Or can give good advice about letting go and looking at the situation with grace and forgiveness. Bearing in mind that forgiveness is not about letting other people off, but it is about freeing yourself from the resentment and bitterness and hurt.

9. Work towards the point of letting it go. At lot of the time, gossip is about validation of our rightness. It’s about controlling the narrative over the other person. That is not an attitude that is filled with grace or love and the only outcome is more hurt for more people. It’s not easy and it doesn’t necessarily happen over night, but work towards letting go. Work towards having grace. Choose what to care about. This is hard. But the bible gives such great guidance. The Psalms show us that God is aware of and understands every fear and negative emotion we have. But in these Psalms, we also see God upholding his people. We don’t get our validation from our friends agreeing with us. We get it from God. “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God.” Psalm 43:5

10. Remember what its for – removing gossip from your life is about creating a cleaner set of thought patterns and developing a more harmonious way of living. Keep working on it. We’re all a work in progress. If you’re someone who loves the drama of a bit of gossip, or know that you find yourself drawn into gossip when someone else is doing it, start watching out for it, and seek help from God and the bible. “Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.” Psalm 141:3