Tag Archives: #sharing

“Who do you say I am?”

Last week I asked what book of the Bible I should choose if we were to try a follow-along-Bible-study. There were some great suggestions and I was really torn. But with prayer, it seemed to me we should start at the very beginning – with the gospel. You might roll your eyes and wish I’d picked a juicy Old Testament nugget. And I was so close to going with Judges or with Ezra! However, sometimes even the most theologically savvy Christian needs to go back to the beginning and to re-remember who Jesus is.

The gospels are absolute gold mines of wisdom. I am also a crazy history nerd and there’s a lot in the gospels that we miss because we’re not 2,000 year old Jews. So, I’ve chosen the gospel of Mark as our first follow-along-Bible study (acronym FAB – how awesome is that?).

It’s commonly believed that Mark was the first gospel to be compiled, and on which both Matthew and Luke were partially drawn. It’s shorter and it’s written in “fisherman’s language” – that is, unlike Matthew which has quite dense Jewish references, and Luke which is quite polished and lyrical, Mark is clear, simple and down to earth.

The date of this gospel could be anywhere from the mid-50s AD to the late 60s. Clement of Alexandria (writing in the late 100s AD) claimed that it was written while the apostle Peter was in Rome (this was in the 50s or 60s). The early church historian Eusebius (writing in the early 300s AD from memories of earlier church fathers) claimed that Peter actually came to Rome when Claudius was emperor (which would have been more in the early 50s). Church tradition says that Peter was executed in Rome during the reign of Nero (around the mid-60s). There’s no way to tell for sure. What’s interesting though is that while there’s lots of academic reasons for chasing a date, we should remember that even in the 60s, this was a mere 30 years after Jesus’ death. That’s like having a memoir written today for John Lennon or Ronald Reagan. It’s really not that long between events and writing.

Who was Mark? That also is a mystery. Popular tradition has it that he was Peter’s interpreter. This mainly comes from Papias who was a Christian leader in 120-ish AD – within 100 years of Jesus’ death. Papias was born after Jesus died but is said to have been a disciple of the apostle John and so had many memories of a direct eye witness who was close to Jesus. Papias is quoted by Eusebius as saying “Mark, who had been Peter’s interpreter, wrote down carefully, but not in order, all that he remembered of the Lords sayings and doings.” And that “he had one purpose only – to leave out nothing that he had heard, and to make no mis-statement about it.”

So Mark himself had not known Jesus but was writing down Peter’s memories some time in the mid-50s to 60s. At this time, there was no other gospel (as far as we know). It had spread by word of mouth as the first Christians spread from Jerusalem with the first persecution that had started with the martyrdom of Stephen (as told in Acts 7). There were some letters. 1 Thessalonians, Galatians, 1 Corinthians and Philippians were all in existence before there was a formal gospel.

With the early church and the converts stretching to Rome, Mark’s gospel in its fisherman’s language and easy style, is targeted at Gentiles. He explains Jewish concepts and leads the reader through an exploration of who Jesus is, from the perspective of a Jew but to readers who have no messianic tradition.

It has a strong and fast-paced narrative style. As we go through, notice how many times Mark uses terms like “Immediately…” as the next thing happens – it appears 42 times in Mark (compared to only 5 times in Matthew and once in Luke). He uses several other devices deliberately designed to draw the reader in and lead us to the truth of Jesus. We’ll talk about these as we go through.

So, once a week, we’ll take a chunk at a time and look together at this gospel. If you have any questions about the setting, authorship, historical context and date or anything I’ve talked about here, feel free to post. This is meant to be as open and interactive as you want.

If you want to read a commentary, there are some that read as easily as novels. My absolute favourite is Mark: The Servant King by Paul Barnett. It’s a brilliant read. King’s Cross by Tim Keller is also good. If you want to go crazy with reading, David A deSilva’s An Introduction to the New Testament is a chunky text book but one of the most interesting I’ve read. It includes lots of historical, literary and cultural context to all the New Testament books.

My prayer for all of us is that we will get to know Jesus again, and get to know him more. I pray that we will be drawn together and to God. I pray that we will find some online community with respect and gentleness – because the reason we are all here is Jesus. It is he that brings us together and binds us all.

Which book of the Bible should I choose?

What do you think?

I’m thinking about blogging through one book of the Bible – a chapter a week. People can follow on and post comments. That way anyone and everyone can engage and interact. Or, you can just follow along if you like.

The idea is to treat it a bit like an online Bible study. In the future this might develop as I find new and interesting ways to use features on my Facebook page, but right now I’d like to start this way to see how it works. I’d love to get some online fellowship going!!

SO – what book of the Bible should I choose? Is there a book you’d love to look at with other women? Is there a book you’re not that familiar with and would like to understand more? Let me know your thoughts in the comments or send me an email!

Ruth xx

PS if you want to engage on Facebook, here’s the link 🙂

https://m.facebook.com/meetmewhereiam/

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.

Take the time to feel the feelings

I’m English and we are commonly associated with the phrase “to keep a stiff upper lip”. This describes an implacable resolve, a refusal to show emotion and a stoic perseverance in times of trouble. We almost have a fondness for the phrase because it seems something so quintessentially English, especially with shows like Downton Abbey (because, you know, Maggie Smith = life goals).

The approach was drawn from Greek philosophy (Stoicism not surprisingly) and the phrase itself was first used in the early 1800s. It was the overriding philosophy in Victorian private schools and came to exemplify what was considered right and proper in a persons character.

In the west generally, there is an approach to emotions that is very private. We grieve privately. Our funerals are about individual closure. We read self-help books at home and see counsellors on sick days or in our spare time. And we soldier on with our stiff upper lip – whether we are English or not. A few years ago, another English classic from World War II was imported around the world:

That’s right. Keep Calm and Carry On was an inspirational poster from 1939 at the outset of the war. These days you see it on mugs and T-shirts and phone cases. The fact that this got such amazing up-take shows how this stoicism still infiltrates our culture, telling us how we should (or think we should) behave.

Our approach to emotions is also about efficiency. We seek to speedily move from feeling bad to feeling good again. Our goal is to process bad events as quickly as possible so we can return to normal functionality.

Partially this is a natural reaction. When we are hurting we want to take the pain away as fast as we can. When we are physically hurt, we put band aids on and we take pain killers. But we need to remember that those things only ease the situation – healing still has to happen.

The trouble is, we are emotional beings. It takes a lot of work to have a stiff upper lip. It takes an awful lot of effort to keep calm and carry on. In fact it does a lot of damage. We move too quickly from the pain before it has healed or, even worse, we suppress them for the sake of moving on quickly which means there was no healing at all. What would happen if we had a deep physical wound that we allowed only to partially heal, or not to heal at all?

In other cultures and in other times, processing negative emotions has been more communal. Mourning was public. Roman funerals could be quite elaborate and include up to five elements (a procession, a cremation and burial, the eulogy, a feast and commemoration).

Similarly in ancient Jewish culture. One of the best gifts we have for helping us to process emotional pain is the Psalms. This is God’s gift to us to have words to express how we feel, even when in anguish and despair – even when we want to shout and scream and protest and question God. Given our cultural discomfort with negative emotions, we tend to mainly focus on the happy Psalms. They’re good for inspirational posters and giving comfort to those in pain when we don’t know what to say. But that’s the beauty of Psalms. God did give us words to say when we’re in pain so we don’t need to jump straight to the happy Psalms to make things better. God taught us a different way.

Nearly half of the Psalms are lament psalms. These Psalms acknowledge the deepest pain and despair, confusion, grief and loss. They give us a journey to process our emotional pain. They allow us to acknowledge the pain and what fears we have. They name fears specifically for us – fear of attack, fear of loss, fear that God will not answer and so on. They acknowledge the feelings – confusion, emotional exhaustion, despair, longing and deep yearning.

Then, and only then, when the psalmist has brought our pain into the light and we have stayed in it a little while, does then the poetry move us to a more hopeful conclusion. This conclusion can only happen after the pain has been processed.

Have a look at Psalm 13 to see some of the things I note above:

Psalm 13

For the director of music. A psalm of David.

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?

    How long will you hide your face from me?

How long must I wrestle with my thoughts

    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?

    How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, Lord my God.

    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,

and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”

    and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

But I trust in your unfailing love;

    my heart rejoices in your salvation.

I will sing the Lord’s praise,

    for he has been good to me.

What we can also remember is that many of these Psalms are good for individual lament and healing. But many are also communal Psalms of lament.

Our pain doesn’t need to be private and it doesn’t need to be processed quickly. Now obviously there is a line. If we swing the pendulum too far we’ll be parading our pain and could end up celebrating it. In addition, if we allow ourselves to stay in the feelings too long, we can end up wallowing and living there.

The Psalms give us a shape and a tempo to processing though. It acknowledges us and gives validation to our feelings. It allows us to stay in them for the purposes of healing. But then the words move us very definitely on to the next stage. And there are over 60 of these types of Psalms! Which means there are Psalms for a whole range of painful emotions, and for repeated use of them – because it’s not as though we just read one psalm and then we’re good to go. We would always have repeated counselling sessions, or GP visits. So we should stay in these Psalms for as long as we need to, allowing God to give us the words to speak and urging us to seek him when we are at our darkest points.

The Psalms give us so much more than just celebration and praise. The next time you are seeking to comfort someone, read lament Psalms with them. Sit with them in their pain. Help them to access the tempo of processing our hurt provided to us by God himself.

And the next time you are seeking comfort for yourself, go to these Psalms. Know that God sees your pain and knows your most negative emotions. He wants you to acknowledge him in the darkness and speak your pain into the light, but he doesn’t want you to stay there. He wants you to trust and move forward, even an inch at a time and for as long as it takes.

You are his and he will never leave you in the dark. Give yourself permission to feel the feelings and let God lead your healing.

I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.

I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.

The kindness we give v. The kindness that is needed

Kindness is so in right now. It’s been in for a while actually, especially since Ellen DeGeneres became so huge with her mantra of “Be kind to one another.” Its a great mantra and I love how she uses it. Side note – when I was pregnant with my first child, I’d watch Ellen and sobbed uncontrollably “Coz, she gave them a car! That’s so beautifuuuuuul <sob sob hiccup sob>” (It was the hormones).

Her mantra took off like wildfire because it felt like, in a cold and demanding world, she was the only one saying it. That’s sad. Firstly it’s sad because kindness shouldn’t be such a rarity. For starters, it’s central to the Christian message. And while one might argue that not everyone is Christian, most of our western civilisation is built from Christian principles so it’s sad that it has become such an alien concept in our culture.

In Exodus 34:6-7 God passes in front of Moses “proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love [hesed] and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.”

The key word in the original Hebrew here is hesed. It means so much more than “love”. It is deeds of devotion, acts of loyalty and favour, mercy, kindness, faithfulness and goodness. God abounds in it.

God wants us to abound in it too. In Micah 6:8 we are told what God requires of us: “To act justly and to love mercy [hesed] and to walk humbly with your God.

This love and kindness is central to God and to us as Christians. So how has it become forgotten?

Well, this comes to a second reason for sadness – It feels as though kindness (which requires powers of observation, thoughtfulness, willingness and effort) is culturally at war with self interest. It’s sad because it feels as though self interest is winning – and we’re all getting swept up in it. We are human and prone to sin which means we are wired to think of ourselves first. But we are culturally trained too. This means we have to work doubly hard to overcome our natural and learned-behavioural inclinations.

Jesus knew this. In Luke, he tells the parable of the Good Samaritan. He tells the story of a man beaten, robbed and left for dead and the priest and the Levite leave him – in the war between kindness and self-interest, self-interest wins.

The Samaritan cared for him and Jesus asks which of the men were a true neighbour? The reply is “the one who had mercy [eleos] on him”. The Greek word eleos (because bear in mind the Old Testament was written in Hebrew and the New Testament was written in Greek) is the word the Greek speaking world used to translate the Old Testament word hesed. So this shows us that the same mercy Jesus speaks of in Luke, is also the hesed of Micah and in God’s character we see described in Exodus.

Read the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:30-37. As you do, don’t imagine yourself as the Samaritan. Imagine yourself as the helpless, broken and robbed person who has been left for dead. And imagine God is the Good Samaritan who found you and healed you and saved you and blessed you. So when, in Luke 10:37, Jesus says “go and do likewise”, we are not to do as the Good Samaritan did – we are to do as God does.

This is something that can be a barrier for us. Because that’s pretty huge. So we imagine if we are to give kindness, they are acts of enormous import and grand gestures. We are to bring a homeless person into our homes. We are to spend our weekends volunteering at a shelter. We should give all our money away.

And kindness may well include those kinds of things. But in the war between kindness and self-interest, kindness is more usually a million small things.

Remember how you felt when you needed kindness. When I have been at my lowest, I prayed simply for the kindness of strangers. I wanted someone to look me in the eye and to hear me and to help me see for one moment that I mattered. Sure, I needed money and help, but what I prayed for was simply for strangers to be kind – for the cashier to smile at me, for the person next to me to stoop and help when I dropped my groceries on the floor, for another passenger to hold the door of the bus open as I ran to catch it. That’s the kindness that I needed. Not big grand gestures.

We don’t need to have kindness in and of itself be a barrier for us, because we are fearful of the level of kindness we are able to give. We need to only remember the kindness that is needed. The giving of kindness is only partially about you and what you are able to give. It is also about what situation you are presented with and what is needed by others.

Sometimes we are able to give a lot, on many levels. But sometimes it’s a word, a smile, a touch on the arm and a look in the eye that says “I see you and you matter.”

God sees us and we matter to him. He abounds in this love. We are to abound in it too, but we are not God. We are not expected to give as much or in the same way as God. We are to love hesed. Our acts of kindness are acts of devotion to God, reflecting his love back to him. We are to go and do likewise, having the eleos of God, being observant and seeing people and showing them (in many ways) that they matter. Each of us must think and pray about what that means. But it is central to God’s call for us. It is central to our Christian way of life.

Kindness is not counter-cultural for us. But it is counter-cultural in our world. Show kindness. Show love. Abound in it. See kindness as acts of devotion to God. Shock the world with the kindness we have – that we have because of him.

An important diagnostic for us, and a gentle challenge for our churches

When I meet ministers or visit a new church, I have three questions that give me an immediate insight into the leadership, direction and culture of that church. These questions aren’t designed to give me ammunition, they are purely to give me insight. That’s the beauty of diagnostic questions – they reveal the state of play. There is no moral weighting attached to the answer, it’s just to establish fact.

The first question is “What is your theology?” This is to make sure I’m going to get good, bible-based teaching. This does not query quality, just foundation. I need to make sure the church is founded on Reformed Evangelical theology.

The second question is “Who is in charge of pastoral care?”. If the answer is “Everyone” that may sound good, but is actually concerning to me. Because if everyone is in charge of pastoral care, then nobody is. Pastoral care needs to be headed up by a minister (paid or lay minister doesn’t matter, as long as it’s one person with responsibility and authority). Someone needs to have overall oversight to make sure pastoral care is a) happening, b) is happening effectively, c) is proactive and not reactive and c) that ensures that the people doing the pastoral care are trained and coached and supported and have the resources they need.

If pastoral care has no minister in charge or proactive leadership, if pastoral care is delegated to small group leaders, this is a concern. Small group leaders and congregational leaders will undoubtedly do most of the care, but it needs to be led by a minister. If it isn’t, the message it sends is that pastoral care is not important. That may well not be true, but that’s the message it sends. And if it is not led by a minister, it may not be part of the culture. It may lack focus and direction, it will lack communication and effectiveness. If we want a church where pastoral care is cultural, it is important for us to know who leads this.

As my first gentle challenge to our churches, I would like ministers to know that this is important to us parishioners. I would ask ministers to consider leadership in this area and recognise the perception (and reality?) that if everyone is in charge of pastoral care then nobody is. Maybe it’s time for a stocktake. Are your people really ok? Is the pastoral care proactive? Is it cultural?

My third question may be the most controversial. It is “How much does the church give?” That is not how much do your parishioners give. This question is about how much does the church give – specifically, give away. Now, bear with me on this because it sounds like a desperately unfair question. Our churches barely have enough to keep themselves afloat without giving anything away.

But let’s look at this another way. Generosity is rarely “caught” by being taught. Generosity is usually caught and spread by being modelled. I spoke to a Presbyterian minister in Sydney’s outer suburbs and he answered “We give about 10% That’s not a deliberate number, it just generally adds up to about that.” I spoke to an Anglican minister in Sydney’s inner suburbs and they also give a substantial amount – enough to pay for additional part time member of staff if that’s what they wanted to do. But they don’t. They want to model generosity by donating a part of their parishioner given income to a variety of Christian charities and missions.

It’s also important for church integrity and authenticity. Churches want (and need!) parishioners to give and to give generously and joyfully. Given that that is the case, it feels as though it would be right and proper for the church to also give sacrificially. To ask others to sacrifice, but not do so as an institution feels lacking in generosity. If we are to exercise generosity of spirit, and engender a generous and joyfully giving church, then I would gently challenge churches to start giving.

This is a gentle challenge because I understand the financial pressures that churches face. I believe a challenge is warranted however because the parishioners who are asked to give, are also facing pressures. What would we say to a parishioner who wants to give but feels they can’t because of the financial pressure they are under? First of all – grace. We don’t know a persons (or a church’s) story. But if we would encourage the person to step out in faith and if we would motivate them to give what they could – then I would direct these responses to our churches also.

Churches are under immense financial pressure. But I believe that churches should challenge themselves and step out in faith and give what they can – even starting with a few dollars a week. My apologies to any minister reading this and thinking its patronising. I certainly don’t mean it to be. I also don’t mean it to be remotely judgemental. I am merely describing what is important to me in a church and what (for me) reveals where the heart of a church is. I do not believe that generosity can be delegated to an external body. For example, encouraging people to give directly to CMS or Anglicare or BaptistCare or Compassion does not count. As worthwhile as that is, it is not generosity. Churches cannot abdicate responsibility for generosity. Generosity is a non-delegable duty.

I have noticed that the churches who give away resources, tend to have the strongest cultures of generosity. Because culture comes from the top and if the church gives and models generosity, the people are more likely to give and be generous more quickly, more instinctively, and more joyfully. This doesn’t mean those churches are devoid of financial worries. It’s just a noticeable difference in churches I’ve seen.

For any ministers reading this who’s churches do give, I want to thank you and appreciate you for the sacrifice and the hard choices. If you are a minister reading this and your church has not felt in a position to give, I want to thank you for reading this far! My gentle challenge to you, brothers and sisters, is that this is a step out in faith. But it will be one that throws ripples throughout your church.

If you are a church-goer reading this, these diagnostic questions are important – but they should never be used to judge. That is not our job and it’s not healthy, productive or helpful to point fingers or complain. We need to be gracious and understanding. We need to be proactive, positive and helpful. A church having the capacity to self-reflect on these matters should be nothing but praised and respected.

I also think it is important to ask these questions though. We are sheep and Jesus is our good shepherd. But that doesn’t mean we are mindless followers in our churches. It is important to review where the heart of the church is.

We want our churches to be strong, vibrant and teeming with a generosity of spirit that is so visible to our communities that it is shocking to them – shocking in all the best and most wonderful ways.

Let’s be honest about our attitude to godly wisdom

As a single mum, I think about money a lot. I mean, I have to, but it is also habit forming. Let me explain. I have to think about money every day, several times a day. What can we afford, what bills are hitting at what point in the month, what do we need to cut this month, what do I need to move and twist and delay. Everything is so finely balanced that it’s like a taught elastic band – which means it can snap at any moment. That bill you forgot. That new bit of school uniform you need. Parking and tolls for work. The vacuum cleaner carks it. Suddenly the wheels fall off the budget and your brain is in overdrive to solve the impossible money riddles.

Most months are like this. But even in a month where things seem to be going ok, I find myself thinking about it obsessively. “By this point in the month I should have this many dollars.” and “If I put off this then I could save a little for next month when that bill is coming.” I’ve learned a behaviour. I’ve developed thinking about money as a habit. I think about it all the time. My brain has become trained to think about a thousand scenarios and consequences simultaneously so I can make decisions about what to spend and when.

That’s not so bad, you might think. I mean, budgeting is good, right? Maybe not. And when there’s no financial backup, I have to think about it a lot – it would be careless of me if I didn’t. But….BUT….when it becomes a habit for its own sake it’s a bad thing.

I was challenged and rebuked in the book of Proverbs. “If you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search of it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.” (Proverbs 2:3-5).

The first bit is easy. We can all pray for wisdom, right? As good Christians we pray for this all the time. But what about the second bit? It is to my shame that I can honestly say I have never sought wisdom the way I do money. I have never planned and plotted how to get wisdom the way I’ve planned and plotted to make my money stretch. I have never given the search for wisdom the kind of mental real estate that I give to budgeting.

Now, one thing I do know is reliance on God for what I have. When I had nothing, God provided. He provided what we needed in some very surprising ways (that’s how I knew it was from him!). It very much changed my view on his gracious provision. But now I have it, I spend an inordinate amount of time planning what to do with it and how to make it stretch.

On one hand, I’m content that I am stewarding his provision, knowing it is not mine. On the other hand, I’m ashamed that it is still an obsessive thought pattern that puts my ability to manage things, ahead of thinking on him and seeking the knowledge of him.

It’s a useful corrective. I am still working on this. I need to manage my budget, but work to break the habit of thinking about it all the time. I need to re-direct that time. I need to plan for, and practice, diverting my thoughts to seeking God’s wisdom when I find myself obsessing over money without cause. Like a trip wire to stop a repetitive and unproductive thought pattern.

I need Jesus to do this. The first thing to do is write down the issue I am wrangling with, this helps me to solidify things. It takes it out of my brain and puts it in black and white on the page. Then I need visual cues in areas where I usually find myself slipping into these habits. For me, that’s in my bed as I lie there mulling over things. So, I have a postcard with a “circuit breaker” stuck next to my bed:

Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9). I can look at this and take a moment just long enough to stop my brain in its tracks and re-direct it.

I’ll need to keep working on it, but it’s a start.

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.