30 June 2011

Decluttering : part one

"So what is behind this 'decluttering' kick you're on the moment?" said the friend. "What's the point of that?"

The key to discovering the truth behind my ongoing project to declutter is to be found in a slogan that you sometimes see around: "He who dies with the most toys, wins". It may be an old joke but I can still think of some people who still live this way! I've found, at least for me, that finding fulfilment by just buying more and more new stuff just doesn't work after a while. In fact, the more cluttered that your life gets, the less you can find things when you want them. And that's true spritually, too! You can lose yourself in the clutter. Or worse, lose your way to God...

Once you realise a fundamental truth behind that jokey statement - that you can't take it with you when you go - then you start giving some quality time to discovering real contentment; this is not found in the accumulation of things, but in giving it away!

Matthew 6:19-21 (the Message)
"Don't hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or-worse!-stolen by burglars. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it's safe from moth and rust and burglars. It's obvious, isn't it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being."

29 June 2011

Going Round In Circles

It would seem that today is a day that I'm cheerfully spending going around in circles.

Just when I think I am achieving something, all of a sudden I am back to square one and starting out again. How frustrating!

And then it struck me. Isn't that the way that we work through a problem spiritually? Doesn't that explain why we seem to tread over the same ground, again and again?

Theologians apparently call this 'the hermeneutical spiral' -going round and round in a cycle, working out theology and reading the Bible. You are constantly checking with scripture to ensure you are working to a sound theology, ensuring also that you're not going off on your own hobby horse of your own. As you keep doing round the cycle, the theory says that you should get closer and closer to the thing you are searching for. The answer!

I'm told it's a good thing to do – but I'm getting rather dizzy today!

26 June 2011

A Weekend Of Extremes

What a weekend! From leaving work on Friday night up to Sunday night's preparations for work again, I'm reeling at a whole gamut of different emotions that I've experienced during a weekend that's been equally extreme.

Extremes of weather, from unimpressive cloud and rain to a scorching 30 degree heatwave. 

Extremes of emotion, from moments of deep frustration, concern and despair, to the staggering heights where deep feelings of belonging and love kept breaking through!

Extremes of time; there was so much to do that the normal weekend lie-in was scrapped. Another session of burning the candle at both ends!

Extremes of experience; there's been some quite disturbing issues on my mind all weekend (most relating to the emotional input); all on an awesome weekend where the Corps met up with a returning cadet, ready for his commissioning as an officer in a fortnight's time. Food, fun and fellowship, with all the other things going through my mind all the time!

These extremes have been randomly cycling through the weekend; I'm left emotionally drained and empty. I have this evening to patch myself together for work tomorrow. 

24 June 2011

Conflict Management - part two

"The better part of valour is discretion; in the which better part I have saved my life." - William Shakespeare, a quotation by Falstaff from Henry IV, Part One

I'm not someone who goes out of his way to pick a fight. If given a choice, I usually resort to the 'better part of valour'. After all, what's the point of being nasty about something, life's too short... However, when it comes to the crunch, I won't say that something is right when it is clearly not. And if that gets me into hot water, well so be it.

I have been given to understand that conflict is normal; it's all part of human nature. I mentioned in my last post that 'conflict is inevitable'; I'm reliably informed that I should say that 'conflict is inevitable in groups of seven or more'. It's easy to see why. Some simple maths tells us that the number of possible relationships in a group of n people = n x n-1. Thus, in a group of seven, there are 7 x 6 = 42 separate relationships. It only takes an 'issue' in one of these relationships to cause a conflict.

Why is it that some conflicts take so long to resolve? Is it Pride? Fear? Stubbornness? Perhaps. However, it's probably something as simple as confusion over the facts (let's face it, gossip is never 100% reliable) or a breakdown in communication. So, after reading a number of articles on the subject this week, I've boiled these down to a simple strategy: to clarify and then to communicate.

For example, how many of us start out by clarifying exactly what we feel? As a Christian , I find that prayer is always a good place to start. Talk it through with God, asking yourself: "Why am I angry? Why am I afraid?" Listen to God's prompting, read scripture, uncover all the emotions until you are left with a better understanding of your feelings, your motivations. And check your facts, if all you are working on is gossip!

And then you communicate. Go and talk to the person. Conflict may be inevitable, however resentment is not. Don't let strong or uncontrolled emotions affect things (anger, tears). Get them out of your system before you start, during the 'clarify' procedure. Despite what the soap operas tell you, getting angry doesn't solve anything. Talk and listen to each other: to both sides of the argument. Talk about what you saw; what you heard; how you felt. Explain the consequences. And then propose a resolution. This might be more than a simple apology, although that's a good place to start.

Remember, the ultimate goal is reconciliation. It's not to points score; not to prove who was right; not to avoid the situation; not to forget.

Matthew 18:15 (New International Version)
If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.

19 June 2011

Conflict Management For Beginners

I am reliably informed that conflict is inevitable. People naturally form groups (families, work colleagues, clubs, church fellowships). Conflict can occur in these groups when two people go after the same thing, or when they want quite different things. There's an argument, hurt feelings, a refusal to conform.

The answers to some of these situations simply can't be found in the sort of popular culture we see all around us. Soap operas revel in conflict; TV series and films generally serve their audience physical violence as standard. Which is probably because sitting down calmly and talking through a problem isn't good TV. Even the examples we get of conflict resolution from our elected representatives in Parliament often results in name-calling and deception.

Why can't we all just get along?

More later...

15 June 2011

Deep Calls Unto Deep

Psalm 42:7-8 (New International Version)
Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.
By day the LORD directs his love, at night his song is with me— a prayer to the God of my life.

Suddenly the words jumped out at me in my daily reading this morning. “Deep calls unto deep.” I scrambled for my web browser, desperate to read more about this. Psalm 42; the NIV translation is quoted above.

These words were written about a very challenging situation. The pressures of life were pounding the writer relentlessly, to the point of overwhelming him.  All that he had to rely on was an assurance that God had something much better for him. Even in the most horrible of situations, those who know God have a source of comfort and hope that will pull them through.

Deep calls unto deep. Despite the outward pain, our Heavenly Father can provide a deep resource of love that is more than sufficient to overcome. And, following Pentecost Sunday, I know that resource is dwelling deep with me. It's right at hand.

And that's awesome.

13 June 2011

Bravery and Foolishness

I've been pondering a lot today about bravery. It seems to me that one man's bravery is another man's foolishness.

One definition I read said that bravery was acting in spite of fear. Foolishness is acting in the same situation without fear.

Here's some more quotations:

If we take the generally accepted definition of bravery as a quality which knows no fear, I have never seen a brave man. All men are frightened. The more intelligent they are, the more they are frightened. - George S. Patton

Courage is not the absence of fear but the judgment that something else is more important than fear. The brave may not live forever but the cautious do not live at all. For now you are travelling the road between who you think you are and who you can be. - Meg Cabot

Courage is fear that has said its prayers. - Dorothy Bernard

12 June 2011

Making Resolutions

Philippians 3:13-14 (New International Version)
Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Many people set themselves New Year resolutions. After an interesting set of experiences leading up to my own birthday I find myself needing to set myself a few resolutions for the next year.

In the last twelve months I have seen times of trial, times of frustration, times of challenge. I desperately seek some closure to some of the experiences in the past and eagerly seek some new insight into what is to come. I need to take what is the best in my life into the future, shedding what is unnecessary. What new experiences are in store for me?  What new lessons will I learn? I need to be ready! I need to acknowledge that God is in control and to embrace the growing pains that I have been experiencing lately. So here are a few resolutions that I set out today:

I resolve to continue to declutter: that for every new item that I bring into the house, I must dispose of two similar items by sale or gift.

I resolve to keep a fresh point of view: that I should be open to new experiences, and new blessings, keeping an open mind as to where the Lord is leading me.

I resolve to accept there are unlimited possibilities: Continued realisation that there is no limit to what God can do in my life; nothing is impossible with God. God opens doors that no man can shut and closes doors that no man can open. Just because of past experiences, it doesn't mean it always has to be like that
I resolve to accept the experiences I face: this is possibly the hardest lesson that I need to learn. God always has a purpose for what I experience, for every trial that I face, that my family faces. I need to continue to centre on Him and trust Him completely.  

6 June 2011

Giving Up

I've blogged a fair bit in the past few months about 'not giving up'. Right now I have to think about doing exactly the opposite.

I don't mean surrendering, about deciding not to fight when things get difficult to bear. It's about giving up certain things that may be holding me back from making progress in other areas. A 'tactical withdrawal' on certain fronts. In this I am assured of encouragement and prayers. Some of these who are supporting me are regular readers of this blog and know the tasks at hand.

But where to start? Where to cut first?

I've given myself a deadline of this Friday to come up with a list of areas to work on. That's a good day to pick. Those of you who are praying people, please ask for some brave and bold plans to be made - and then for the courage to put them into action.

5 June 2011

Mysterious Ways

It's amazing how God works, isn't it? In trying to help someone else, I've been helped myself! It was because I was looking up the phrase 'God works in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform' that I started to read about the life of the author of these words.

William Cowper was born in Berkhamsted in 1737, the son of the Reverend John Cowper and of Ann, the daughter of Roger Donne of Ludham Hall, Norfolk. After leaving school, Cowper studied law at the Inner Temple in London, but had to abandon any plans for a legal career due to a tendency to debilitating bouts of depression and doubt. It was part of his initial recovery that led to William discovering his own faith.

In 1763 William was offered a job as a clerk at the House of Lords, but the stress of preparing for the required exam triggered a breakdown so bad that he even attempted suicide. Reverend Morley Unwin and his wife Mary took him in and helped him recover. William stayed with the Unwins in Huntingdon, and continued to live with Mrs Unwin and her daughter Susanna after the Reverend was killed in a riding accident in 1767.

After Unwin died, they all moved to Olney in Buckinghamshire, under the ministry of Reverend John Newton, who was the evangelical curate there. William's mental health still affected him quite badly at this time, with some serious issues in 1773. John Newton and William worked together, producing the book "Olney Hymns" (1779), a collection of 349 hymns, with 67 written by William.

William and Mary got engaged in 1772, but a serious recurrence of his depression ended the engagement. It is said that William's worsening mental condition made marriage 'impossible'. Nevertheless, they continued to live together (in separate bedrooms). Despite periods of severe depression, his eighteen years in Olney and eight more at Weston Underwood saw him produce a number of works as a poet, hymn-writer and translator.

In 1791, Mary fell ill, which affected William greatly. Her death in 1796 resulted in William's despair which is expressed in his last great poem, "The Castaway". He died in 1800.

William's classic words, "God Moves in a Mysterious Way", were written in 1773 before the onset of one of his depressive episodes, and was included in "Olney Hymns". Originally entitled "Conflict: Light Shining Out Of Darkness”, the hymn is said to reflect God’s leading of William throughout his own lifetime. There is even an unsubstantiated story about how the hymn was written:

The story goes that William set out to com­mit su­i­cide by drown­ing him­self. He called a cab and told the driv­er to take him to the River Thames. How­ever, a thick fog came down and pre­vent­ed the pair of them from find­ing the riv­er. After driv­ing around for a while, the cab­driver fin­al­ly stopped and let William out. To his sur­prise, he found him­self on his own front door­step. God had sent the fog to keep him from kill­ing him­self.

What do you think?

2 June 2011

Writing In The Margins

Thinking back to my schooldays, I remember trying to make the best use of my note books when it came to revision times. These essential books were 'dog-eared' and well-thumbed, crammed with useful bits, with all corners of the page used, even the margins.

A friend of mine brought the subject of margins to my mind when talking about planning my day. You see, I'm very good at cramming a lot of different things into a day, and others around me are just as good at filling any spare gaps. There's been some days where I've reached overcapacity. And that's where I start having the difficulties... some days, my life is starting to look a bit 'dog-eared', too!

The friend reminded me of the story of Ruth, which was fresh in my mind after a recent bible study on the subject. In these days, the farmers deliberately left the edges of the field unharvested for the benefit of those 'others' in the community. 

Similarly, my challenge today is to get better at planning, in order to include a breathing space or two. The aim is not to fill up every part of my day, but to leave some margins. There will always be something (or someone) who can fill those margins for you. You can be sure of that. If these 'margins' are already full, then you either leave yourself open to disappointing someone - or, more likely, push yourself harder than normal, straining to get a 'quart out a pint pot'. 

1 June 2011

Through A Glass, Darkly

"Through a Glass Darkly" (SÃ¥som i en spegel) is a Swedish film, written and directed in 1961 by Ingmar Bergman. The title comes from scripture, from 1 Corinthians 13:12, which refers to our efforts to understand or comprehend God. You see, any picture that we may get of the Almighty is just a glimpse, like the image in a poor mirror. The view will only be crystal clear when we meet Him face to face. The film's original title means 'As in a Mirror', taken from a 1917 Swedish translation of the Bible. The English title is the King James Version equivalent; "For now we see through a glass, darkly."

I prefer to use modern English translations when studying scripture but there's something about this phrase from the KJV that speaks to me today. Perhaps it's discovering that this was quoted by Jean-Luc Picard in one of the Star Trek films (a fact I only realised yesterday); perhaps it was the article on depression that I just read that also quoted it that has kept this in the front of my mind.

Today has been quite a dark day for me. I am longing for the day when I can see the light. I eagerly wait for it.

1 Corinthians 13:12 (New International Version)
For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.