Life, Philosophy, Relationships

The Importance of Yes

yes-by-jose-picardo-on-flickr

Given the recent controversies in the States with the Brock Turner trial and the latest allegations against Trump – global news thanks to the media – you’d be forgiven for thinking that I’m going to be writing about sexual consent; however, I’m going to assume that my readers would already understand the importance of ‘yes’ in that context(!).  Here, we’re going to examine the importance of ‘yes’ from a Christian perspective – the value of agreeing with what’s proposed; signing up; raising your hand; and being willing to both give and receive.

We’re so busy these days; we guard our schedules so closely.  Every blog, magazine, and opinion piece I’ve read lately seems to have proclaimed the necessity of learning to say ‘no’ – and here I am proclaiming the opposite!  It’s true – I agree with that other proclamation in this: we do need to be careful not to just agree to do whatever is asked of us regardless of the cost to our sanity, our dignity, and our felicity – but we also miss amazing opportunities when we’re too quick to say ‘no’ or to push aside a vision for something we’d like to be involved in.

So often, I think, something is asked of us, and our immediate instinct is to turn down the opportunity.  We think, “I’ve already got too much on!” or, “This is WAY out of my comfort zone – NO, THANKS!”  But when we resist that urge to say ‘no’ and instead jump in – boots & all – the results can be amazing.

Yesterday at church we examined the idea and practice of prayer.  At some point, around the middle of the service, we were asked to gather with those around us and pray together.  We were also encouraged to separate from our spouses for this purpose, so that we’d be a little further out of our comfort zone and meet a few more people (it’s a fairly large church).  I love to pray, but my immediate thought was, “Uh – do we have to?”  Just the idea of having to introduce myself to people I didn’t know and then pray – to share the intimacy of our hearts’ cries to God – was daunting.  But I ignored the impulse to just huddle with my hubby in a prayer-group-for-two and instead headed to a few pews ahead to pray with some people I’d never met.

I discovered through our prayers that they were a family group, and they were dealing with some tough stuff; they were a bit emotional and one of them even apologised to me, as if she felt badly that I’d ended up in the middle of what they were going through.  But I was delighted to be there.  It was my joy and my privilege to pray for healing; I was happy to share prayers for our community and our church with these godly women, even in the midst of their own trials.  God knew where he wanted me, and that’s where I ended up – but only because I said, “Yes.”

We need to be ready to say ‘yes’ in the moment – to ‘let go and let God’, as those in Christian circles are wont to say – because when we ignore our fears, push aside our doubts, and give our anxieties to God He will more than meet us in that moment.

We also need to overcome our reticence to say ‘yes’ when someone’s offering to do something for us or to share our burden.  The women I prayed with today – they did that.  They shared what they were going through; they welcomed me into prayer over their burden, delving into what really mattered to them, when they’d undoubtedly have found it easier to just stick to the script and pray some general prayer with me to get it over with.

I’ve just spent three weeks in virtual quarantine; our family’s been through a bad flu (high fevers, chills, and then colds) and conjunctivitis.  Several kind friends offered to help in some way, but I was generally inclined to just soldier on as best I could.  This was partly because there’s always someone who’s got it worse and partly because, what could they really do?  What you really need when you’re in the midst of a family-wide flu is either (a.) a housemaid with a strong constitution (so she could clean up the inevitable tsunami of mess that accompanies a family of six being cooped up in a house for several weeks without, herself, succumbing to the bugs that had laid us so low);  or (b.) a magic wand that would make me well enough to escape the confines of the infirmary (alas, with a grossly swollen eye I was fit only for the most desperate of forays into public for the purpose of gathering supplies!).  Finally, though, a friend on her way to the supermarket offered to pick something up and – light bulb moment, here – I said, “Yes!”  Well, after first saying ‘no’…  I realised that we were out of oranges – and oranges were what my feverish ones were begging for – so I texted her back and said, “Yes, please – we’d LOVE a few oranges.”  And *wow* – those oranges were such a treat (thank you, A, if you’re reading!)!

We’re so independent, most of us.  We are so reluctant to let others do something for us – so hesitant to accept help.  It’s pride, sometimes, that makes it difficult for us to say ‘yes’ to help; sometimes it’s more a sense of being undeserving of their kindness.  Whyever it is that we’re reticent to accept help, we need to overcome that instinct, because relationships are built and strengthened by this give-and-take.  I want my friends to accept an offer of a meal if it’ll make their lives easier for an evening when they’re dealing with illness, a new baby, or grief; I want them to let me fetch something when I’m doing my own shopping, or loan them something they’re short of, or collect their kids from school with mine when they’re running late for pick-up.  And I know that they want me to say ‘yes’ to their offers to do the same.  Saying ‘yes’ to involvement in the lives of those around us is key in building relationships.

I’ve got a few things going on, between our boys’ activities, church, writing work, and so forth.  There are some new opportunities for involvement at church and school, too, and I’m having to consider each one before just leaping in and finding myself swamped.  At the same time, I’m also working to avoid the trap of just saying, ‘No!’ to one more thing.  I have to fight the urge to shut down and say, “No WAY can I take on more – have you seen the state of my HOUSE??!  I can barely find energy to make lunches on school nights – how on earth will I find energy for something else?!”  Because I know – as you probably do, too, in your heart of hearts – that when I’m doing things that I love, it energises me.  When I make time for things I believe are important, I feel fulfilled; my time is reduced but my sense of accomplishment grows to more than compensate for what I’ve given up.  It’s true that we have a finite amount of time and we need to be careful what we spend it on – but it’s also true we waste a lot of the time we have; perhaps even more when we haven’t said ‘yes’ to things that demand inclusion in our schedules.

It’s so easy to get into the habit of saying ‘no’.  It can become our default method of self-preservation – but it can also prevent us from truly living up to our potential.  It can hinder us from receiving a blessing; and it can prevent us from being a blessing to those around us.

Really, what it boils down to is this:  Your ‘yes’ is important.  It’s essential, really.  So don’t be too frugal with it.  Seize those opportunities!  Bite off more than you can chew!  When we open ourselves up to opportunities for service; avail ourselves of the kindness of others; and follow our vision with passion, we realise that none of the reasons to say ‘no’ really mattered at all.

 

NB:  This post is dedicated to the memory of H.R., a wonderful brother-in-Christ who is now more than ‘resting in peace’ – he is living in Glory!  He said ‘Yes!’ to God a long time ago, and his life was a tribute to the power of that commitment.  He had a special gift for greeting and welcoming others, and I pray that I’ll always honour his memory by putting aside my shyness and greeting those around me – even those I don’t know – with warmth and compassion.

Thanks for reading!

-Trix  x

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Faith, Life, Relationships

Heads Up!

Conversation by Francois Bester on flickr

‘Save My Life’ – that’s the song on our playlist in the car that has been speaking into my heart.  Today I listened to it anew – and it reminded me of a message I’d written for our church magazine a few years ago.  The timing felt right to update the piece and post it for my blog readers, so here you go!

As I was entering marriage, my mother gave me some great advice about welcoming my husband home from work:

“Never let the dog greet him more warmly than you do.”

The idea might seem humorously absurd, but it does contain a precious nugget of truth: our nearest and dearest deserve the best of us, and we should not fail to give them our love and attention.

It’s now been close to fifteen years since West and I got married, and although we haven’t got a dog to greet us at the door, we do have a gaggle of boys vying for our attention.

There’s a lot going on in our household, and I definitely find that the everyday chaos of life can get in the way of my intentions to give my family the best of me.  I’m busy making dinner, sending an email, sorting out my ‘to-do’ list, trying to get everyone where they need to be at the time they need to be there, or simply trying to carve out the head-space to think and plan more than an hour into the future.  Talk to any Mama and I’ll bet you’ll find it’s the same for her – and we mothers aren’t the only ones who struggle with managing a multitude of tasks alongside our family’s needs.

So often our lives become so full of ‘doing’ that we allow Life – the real stuff – to happen around us.  We end up missing out on interactions with others because life is busy – so busy, in fact, that sometimes we don’t even bother to look up when someone we love enters the room.  And what of those who are more peripheral to our everyday lives – how many times do we fail to really notice the people around us?

It takes energy to maintain relationships and show that we care, and if we’re honest we must admit that sometimes we’d just prefer not to expend that energy.  Relationships are messy. Truth is, we often end up disappointing the people who most crave our regard because of our unwillingness to make and maintain connections with others.

What would our faith be like if Jesus had just opted out of Relationship?  Of course, the idea is ridiculous – Relationship is the reason we were placed on the earth: firstly, that we might enjoy a relationship with our Creator; and secondly, that we might enjoy relationships with those around us.  It is the most important thing.

We all go through seasons of life where we just put our heads down and push on.  Sometimes our work and familial obligations pile up – our time seems to be scheduled down to the nanosecond, and we feel that we must rush to ‘do, do, do’ in order to accomplish all the necessary tasks; sometimes we find ourselves in a period of illness or convalescence, and everything ‘normal’ just feels like hard work and too much trouble; sometimes we’re in a new situation and our energy is sapped just trying to find our way.  But how often do we manage to put our own agenda and needs aside to make ourselves available to others?

If we are created by God to be in relationship, can we allow ourselves to forfeit the chance to have real relationships with people when we make excuses like we’re ‘too busy’ to make new friends, or ‘too old,’ or when we don’t bother trying because we think that ‘nobody will get me’? What’s stopping us from being to others the friend that we wish we had?

What if, no matter what season of life we were in, we just stopped – and started to live life with our heads up?

Living life with your head up means being willing to engage in the lives of others, being aware of the needs of those around us, and being willing to do what we can to meet those needs.  It means engaging with others in a caring, intentional way.  It means nurturing our relationships instead of neglecting them. We are never too old, too young, or too busy to contribute to the lives of others.

The next time you’re in your workplace, picking your kids up from school, or just out running errands, I encourage you to remember to look up and really engage with those around you.

When we remember to look up from the things or activities that more commonly draw our attention and focus, we really see the people in our midst.  Let’s make ourselves available to those around us.

I, for one, am striving to live life with my head up.

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Life, Marriage, Relationships

Lead Us Not Into Temptation

Candies by Daniel Horacio Agostini on flickr

Ah, that delicious feeling of falling in love… Isn’t it wonderful?!  The thrill of being noticed, the discovery of common interests and mutual affection – even the delight in your differences!  Your passions are ignited; you just can’t get enough of each other – you want to spend all your time with one another, to know each other’s every thought, to share all your hopes and dreams…

There’s nothing else quite like falling in love.

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There has been a lot of talk about infidelity with the recent Ashley Madison scandal.  For those out of the news loop, Ashley Madison is (was?) a website dedicated to the arrangement of extra-marital affairs – a ‘hook-up’ site for married people.  That such an organization existed was news to me; I was shocked that there was a company dedicated to orchestrating infidelity.  Worse still, it seems to have been a thriving business.

There are those who argue that humans just aren’t meant to be monogamous; marriage, to these people, is a social construct – and one which contravenes our very nature.  To proponents of this theory, the marriage relationship has little to no merit.  With all due respect (kind of), I’m going to dismiss this theory as disillusionist propaganda – the philosophy of those so jaded by their experience of dysfunctional relationships that they are closed to the possibility of a healthy and fulfilling union.

I’m writing with the belief that marriage is indeed something special.  As one definition puts it:

Marriage, also called matrimony or wedlock, is a socially or ritually recognized union or legal contract between spouses that establishes rights and obligations between them, between them and their children, and between them and their in-laws.

It is, at its essence, a monogamous relationship; maintaining and protecting the sanctity of that relationship is one of the ‘obligations’ mentioned in the definition above.  And, far from being restrictive (which is the argument of marriage’s many detractors), the bonds of matrimony provide those within their confines with the freedom to love one another liberally and without restraint.

But what about when that sanctity is destroyed?  Infidelity is a betrayal of that sacred trust we bestow upon our spouse when we exchange marriage vows.  As I’ve discussed in the past, this betrayal also reaches beyond the couple themselves into the extended family and society as a whole.

I don’t think that many people set out to become unfaithful.  Well perhaps I should say that, aside from the multitude of Ashley Madison subscribers, I don’t think that married people who end up having affairs do so because they’ve intended to do so.  I do think that those who end up having affairs often do so because they haven’t been intentional enough about NOT being unfaithful.

There are plenty of people who simply don’t know that they need to be on their guard against temptation.  In fact, if you talk about the concept of temptation amongst your group of friends you will probably find that the discussion revolves around the temptation to eat too many treats, or the temptation to be a bit ‘naughty’ with spending or reckless in our use of time.  Rarely do we treat the issue of temptation with the seriousness it truly merits, because temptation – not only the urge to indulge in the vices of gluttony and sloth, but also sexual temptation – has the potential to destroy lives.

So – if we agree that temptation is a risk, and that falling prey to that temptation can have damnable results, we need to look at how to guard ourselves against it.

First, we need to understand that temptation isn’t a physical thing.  It’s not just acting on temptation that’s a problem; we need to cut it off at its source.  Keeping our thought-life in check is our first line of defense.

But there’s no harm in just thinking something!, you might say.  Have you ever heard the legal term ‘malice aforethought’?  This term is particular to culpability in cases of grievous injury or murder – but the same idea applies here.  Thinking about something is often the first step to doing it; as the Bible says, “from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries” (Mark 7:21).  In other words, our thoughts give birth to our actions.

What this means in real life is this: don’t indulge in fantasies about men other than your spouse.  Don’t allow yourself the train of thought, “What would it be like to live with that guy?” or “What if I’d married that boyfriend?”*.  Once again the Ten Commandments come into play – “you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife” (Exodus 20:17) and “you shall not commit adultery” (Jesus said, “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”)

Fantasizing about someone (other than your spouse) is a sin against that person.  If that idea doesn’t sit comfortably with you, let me ask you this, “Would you think it was OK for some guy – let’s imagine for a second that he’s NOT someone you find at all appealing – to indulge in sexual fantasies about you on a regular basis?”  No, right?  Kind of gross – kind of creepy.  That’s because he’s assuming a relationship with you to which you haven’t consented.  And if you’re getting all hot and bothered about someone (other than your husband) YOU find attractive, and indulging in fantasies about him, you’re kind of being like that creep.  Sorry!

We need to guard our thoughts if we are to avoid falling into temptation.

Secondly, we need to guard our eyes.  We don’t literally need to wear blinkers; figuratively, though, blinkers are a good idea.  What that means is that, although we’re able to see what we need to see, we decide what to look at and we opt out of looking at things that ‘lead us into temptation’.

Let me be clear about this: God created beauty.  He made our bodies to be things of beauty (our own insecurities notwithstanding), and there’s nothing shameful about the attractive nature of our design. God created the world to be a sensuous place – full of texture and appeal to delight all our senses.  God created love, too – and in this, too, there are textures and shades.  There’s unconditional (agape) love, familial (storge) love, filial (phileo) love, and eros.  Eros, or romantic love, is to be reserved for our spouse.  Job, described in the Bible as ‘blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil’, said, “I have made a covenant with my eyes; How then could I gaze at a virgin?” (Job 31:1)

Guarding our eyes means not ogling that guy’s six-pack in the underwear ad.  It means not turning our head to gaze for longer at a good-looking dude as we drive by.  It means not indulging in movies or magazines or other media that show gratuitous nudity.  Pornography, in particular, is damaging to our sexuality.   Looking away from these things is as much about protecting our own sense of sensuality in our marriage as it is about honouring our spouses.  West is very good about keeping those blinkers on, but I tease him a bit – we’ll be driving down the road past a pretty girl, and I’ll turn in the passenger seat and just stare at him, watching to see his reaction, until he laughs.  Sometimes he hasn’t even seen anything, and he has to ask, “What did I miss??” But it’s a joke between us, really, because he has never caused me to feel jealous by gawking at other women.

We need to be prepared to look away from temptations.

 

Third, we should be wary of our actions.  So maybe you’re a touchy-feely kind of girl – I’m pretty physically demonstrative, so I can relate – and you think there’s no harm in giving your workmate (‘he’s more like a brother…’) a shoulder-rub, or you naturally reach out and squeeze the arm of a guy-friend as you walk by…  And in a way you’d be right: there’s nothing wrong with showing physical affection for others – even others of the opposite sex – but you’d better be careful that your gesture of affection isn’t interpreted as something else (something more).  And you’d better be sure that it doesn’t turn into something more.

Can I just say here that I do have very close, beloved male friends – and I am not trying to make the case that ‘guys and girls just can’t be platonic friends’, because that’s just rubbish.  What I am saying is that I’m careful about how I behave with them – no flirting, no innuendo, no coquettish brushing against them.  In the Bible it says, “Abstain from all appearance of evil” – so I don’t give my male friends – or my husband – any cause to wonder if I might feel something more for them.

We have to guard ourselves physically.

This might seem like a post full of ‘do nots’; let’s move on, then, to some more proactive stuff.  Avoiding temptation also involves some decisive action.

We need to focus on our own spouse.  We should avoid fantasizing about others, but we should indulge in a healthy thought-life about our spouseWe should think good things about them.  We should bask in delightful memories of our love and use our imaginations to enhance future interactions with our spouse.  We should be mindful in how we talk to them and we should be intentional about appreciating them.

We need to look away from other tempting sights, but we should have our eyes open to the appeals of the one to whom we’re married.

We have to be careful that we don’t send others the wrong signals with our physical contact; we also have to be careful to send the right signals to our spouse.  We should nurture our physical relationship and not take our closeness for granted.

Sometimes, when we’ve been married for a while and we sometimes feel like just another part of the furniture, we can be taken by surprise when temptation jumps out at us.  Sometimes we underestimate our ability to attract the attention of the opposite sex; and when someone notices us it’s a pleasant surprise.  But we have to guard ourselves against trading our sacred contract for a momentary thrill.

One of the best ways to guard yourself from succumbing to the temptation of new love is to hold a deep and abiding belief in the unique pleasure we enjoy in having a mature love.  Believing in the special nature of marital longevity and believing in the virtue of fidelity (and the sanctity of marriage) will go a long way to fending off temptation.  Think about all your inside-jokes as a couple, your shared history, your unique bond.  A marriage that has stood the test of time is a very, very special thing.  Don’t trade that for anything.

Finally, we should be both on our guard against temptation and willing to flee from temptation.  Joseph (of the Technicolour Dreamcoat) literally fled the advances of his boss’s amorous wife.  Indeed, turning away from temptation and running in the opposite direction is the biblical way:

Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body.

(1 Corinthians 6:18)

 Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.

(2 Timothy 2:22)

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On my run the other day, I was tired.  I felt weak.  All I really wanted to do was find a shortcut and head home – but I knew that I had further to go.  As I approached my own street on the circuit, I crossed the road away from it.  Physically moving myself further away from the path home was remarkably effective; I was able to focus on the road ahead and I was no longer tempted to curtail my progress.

Don’t be afraid to take evasive manoeuvres in avoiding temptation.  Politely remove yourself from the company of someone who insists on flirting with you.  Disengage yourself from discussions in which someone of the opposite sex is unloading to you about the difficulties in their marriage (unless you are a minister or a marriage counsellor and listening to their trials in an official capacity – or if you as a couple are supporting them in their marriage).  Decline the offer of a car-ride from someone if it seems like there’s a frisson of desire there.

A surprising fallout from the 9/11 tragedy was the dissolution of the marriages of a number of New York firefighters.  The reason?  They left their wives for the widows of their fallen colleagues. Nobody suspected that something as seemingly innocent as supporting a grieving widow could have these unintended consequences for their marriages; it would have been wiser to have offered this support as a unit or a couple.  Maybe it seems old-fashioned, but it is not a good idea for a married man and a single woman to consistently spend time alone together (or a married woman with a single guy) – it can lead to a sense of intimacy and pull the married person away from his or her spouse.

It doesn’t matter if you feel foolish for being careful.  It doesn’t matter if you feel a bit rude for being firm about your boundaries.  ‘Abstain from all appearance of evil.’

There’s nothing like falling in love, true – but it’s no substitute for the love that’s stood the test of time.

How to Affair-Proof Your Marriage

  • Recognize temptation
  • Avoid temptation:
    • Guard your mind
    • Guard your eyes
    • Guard your actions
  • Keep your focus on your spouse
  • Believe in the importance of both fidelity and marital longevity

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*Further to this point: Imagining ‘what ifs’ is a fool’s game.  It’s bound to lead to unhappiness and disenchantment, especially when our marriage is going through a rough patch.  We have to remember, if everyone got divorced when they went through a phase of finding their spouse chronically frustrating and impossible to live with, there wouldn’t be any marriages that lasted longer than two or three years!  

PS Just a note to the guys reading this – apologies for writing from the female perspective instead of making it all even or neutral, but it just got too messy.  The same applies for you, though, as I’m sure you’ve figured out.  Thanks for reading!

-Trix

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Faith, Life, Relationships

“I’ve Got This”

Uplifting Hero by JD Hancock on flickr

There are pictures that continue to haunt you long after you’ve turned the page or clicked away from them.  You can see them with your eyes shut.  And, somehow, these pictures work their way through your optic nerve straight into your heart.

Last week I saw one of those pictures.

At first, when the image popped up in my Facebook feed from a couple of friends’ status updates, I thought it was just a funny little boy doing what funny little toddlers do.  I thought he wanted to stay at the beach, so he was lying in the sand in protest.  What a shock, then, to realize that it was no joke. 

The little boy was dead.

He was three years old.  I have a three-year-old.

He had been in a boat fleeing, with his family, from the devastation of his homeland; the boat capsized, and he drowned.  His Mama died, too.  And his brother.  And there is nothing – nothing – that can make that whole story OK.  There’s nothing that can make it settle for me.

Later I saw a picture of his Dad – this grieving, broken man – and I read the comments on social media; sentiments ranging from ‘we all have to help, somehow’, to ‘why do we care about something that’s happening so far away when we’ve got enough problems in our own backyard?’, and even people questioning whether or not we’d even want to welcome those refugees into our country.  I was compelled to add a comment of my own:

At what point does it stop being about where people are from

and start being about the fact that they are fellow human beings?!

We’re living in such a broken world!  There’s so much division between people – barriers we’ve created based on race, language, beliefs, culture, status…  We have forgotten that we are all God’s children.

At times like these we could really use a hero, you know?  If we were in a movie, the action star would show up around now – all muscle and machine-guns – and declare (to our breathless relief), “I’ve got this.”*  He’d coolly sort out the bad guys and set the good guys back on their feet and everyone would live happily ever after.

We want a hero like that.

That’s what the Jews were looking for, as well.  A couple of thousand years ago, they were ready for a hero to walk in and sort things out.  The Jewish people had been living under Roman rule for a while (even if in the guise of a Jewish ruler – the Kings were appointed by Rome), and they longed for the promised Messiah.  They were pretty sure they knew what they wanted in this Messiah, too: he’d swoop in wearing battle dress and lay waste to their enemies, declaring the Jews the victors and heirs of this magnificent inheritance he had restored to them along with their Promised Land.  He’d be a great, charismatic, political leader of royal descent, and he’d ‘execute justice and righteousness on the earth’.  In short, the Messiah would step in and tell everyone, “I’ve got this.”

As it turned out, though, the Messiah was not what they’d expected.

They wanted a warriorhe was a lamb.

They wanted a judge – he submitted himself to judgement.

They wanted a redeemer for the Jewshe redeemed us all.

Jesus came in and turned everyone’s expectations upside-down.  They wanted revenge, but he preached ‘Love your enemies.’  They wanted him to fight – but he submitted himself to death, instead.  They wanted him to be the powerful, charismatic leader of the people – but he was the meek and humble servant of all.

So, Jesus wasn’t the type of hero who’d declare to an adoring crowd, “I’ve got this.”  Instead, he simply demonstrated – to his disciples, to his detractors, and to all those who just showed up out of curiosity – how to live in the understanding that God has ‘got this’.  He showed us how to have faith, how to have hope, and (perhaps most importantly) how to love.

God has got this.

For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.

– Isaiah 41:13

The same God who said that to the Israelites almost three thousand years ago is saying that to us now, too. “I will help you.”  I’ve got this.

Emboldened by this belief, we need to act. What we need to do is what Jesus did: we need to demonstrate our faith – in God and in humanity – and our hope, and our love.  We need to do the little things that make a big difference.  We need to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the world around us – doing God’s work, according to God’s good purposes.

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

– Romans 8:28

We can be reassured as we trust in God, because we cannot see the big picture – but He can.  Imagine the infinite nature of space and time… but, we can’t.  Let’s just imagine, then, that we are but a particle on a stitch on an enormous tapestry… We have some vague idea of the array of colour and pattern in our tiny portion of that giant work of art but we cannot fathom what the whole thing looks like.  Ridiculously, we couldn’t even tell you whether we’re part of an ant’s foot or a flower’s petal or even a steaming divot; however, because we trust in the hope described for us in God’s Word, we know that we are a part of whatever it is ‘according to His purpose’.

God’s purpose is, ultimately, that we should live in relationship with Him – and share in His son Jesus’ inheritance of eternal life when our time on earth comes to an end.  Therefore, let us partner with Him in the world.  Let us ‘seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly’ amongst our fellow men.

I don’t want to ‘get over’ the shock of that devastating image I saw last week.  I want it to move me into action, trusting that ‘God’s got this’, and that He has called me ‘to this good purpose’.

John Wesley’s Rule:

Do all the good you can,

By all the means you can,

In all the ways you can,

In all the places you can,

At all the times you can,

To all the people you can,

As long as ever you can.

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*[I’ve got this – meaning, ‘I am going to handle this situation’]

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A Note from Trix:

If you have been moved by the refugee crisis, but you don’t know where to start, here are some ways of making a difference:

Be encouraged. God HAS got this.  Watch and listen for some inspiration: ‘Come to Me

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Motherhood, Parenting, Personal Growth, Relationships

How to Be an Emotional Adult

Angry kitten by zhouxuan12345678 on flickr

Last week I wrote about helping kids to navigate the often murky waters of their own feelings.  This is an important investment of our time as parents, to be sure – but kids aren’t the only ones who need to increase their emotional intelligence.  Some grown-ups still have a lot of growing-up to do when it comes to identifying, handling, and expressing emotion, too.

We adults – just like our kids – can be pretty clueless about how we’re feeling in some situations.  Why, otherwise, would we pull a kid back to prevent him from stepping off a curb into traffic and express our relief at having saved them by yelling at them?!  You know, the old “You could have died!  I’m gonna wring your neck!” speech… * We don’t choose carefully measured words because we are a jumble of nerves and emotions at that moment that we’ve saved a child from the precipice.  We can’t reasonably process all that we’re feeling – and so we express ourselves poorly.

*[Disclaimer here: it is a normal reaction to speak in violent hyperbole when rescuing children from certain death – this does not mean that we follow through with actual physical violence.]

We adults aren’t just clueless about how we’re feeling.  As the above example demonstrates, we’re not always in control of our emotions, either.  We don’t always express our anxiety, anger, or sadness appropriately.  But letting our kids see that we’re working on being better at those things can help them to realize that it’s important for them to make the same effort.  And yes, if we find that we’re consistently ‘venting’ in ways that aren’t healthy for our families or making excuses for yelling, ranting, and raging, then it’s time to get help.

I find it useful to give my family a ‘heads-up’ when I’m feeling particularly stressed or hormonal – not so that I have an excuse for losing my temper, but so that they can understand if I’m not as patient as I’d like to be.  And an apology goes a long way; if we admit that we’ve behaved in a way that we’re not proud of, it puts the responsibility for our actions on our own shoulders so that our kids are less likely to take a sharp answer or impatient attitude personally.  Apologising also demonstrates an important point:

We are responsible for our own actions, even when we feel that our negative feelings might excuse the poor choices we make in expressing those emotions.

We are the adults.  We need to be committed to striving for emotional maturity (more on that later).

It’s important to realize, too, that there are cultural and family differences that influence where we set our threshold for emotional expression.

Brits (and British colonials) have generally exhibited a ‘stiff upper lip’ approach to emotion; that is, don’t let that lower lip wobble and show your vulnerability, but push your feelings to the side and get on with it.  Latin temperaments tend towards the opposite end of the spectrum; Italians and people from other Latinate backgrounds are more likely to display their feelings in a ‘fiesta’ of passions; in those societies, it’s considered braver and more honest to express emotion than to contain it.  Both of these approaches have their benefits and their costs.  When we never address how we’re feeling, we risk becoming too repressed and never making ourselves truly known (nor ever truly knowing others); when we allow ourselves unrestricted expression of emotion, we can cause rifts in our relationships when we vent our frustrations in a heated moment (because seldom do these frustrations typify our feelings about the other person/people the rest of the time – they’re a flash in the pan).

Whether your family growing up embodied the ‘fight hard, love hard’ approach to life, or whether they exhibited a ‘tortoise’ mentality (duck down and wait ‘til it’s over – hide in your shell from those uncomfortable feelings), it WILL have an impact on how you behave in your own relationships today.  It will also affect how you behave in your role as a parent.  But it doesn’t have to be just a matter of walking in your parents’ shoes – you can make deliberate choices to achieve what you feel is a healthy balance (bearing in mind that you don’t want to be extremely to one side or the other of this spectrum).

So, what does emotional maturity look like?  Well, to me it looks something like this:

  • Acknowledging emotions – Accepting that you are an emotional being, and that feelings lend both colour and meaning to your existence.
  • Correctly identifying emotions – “Am I scared? Anxious?  Frustrated? Lonely?”
  • Tracing the source of your feelings – “This feels like anger, but what am I really upset about? Do I feel ignored?  Am I just hungry or tired and so my patience has petered out?”
  • Avoiding blame You’re responsible for your own reactions, and you shouldn’t allow the actions of others to control how you feel.
  • Expressing your emotions in a helpful, considerate, and honest manner – not ‘venting’ or allowing your emotions to control your behaviour to an unhealthy degree.

One of the signs of true emotional maturity in a parent is not mirroring your kids’ craziness back to them.  If your kid’s angry, then he’s angry – it doesn’t mean you have to be, too.  When your preschooler is losing it at the gate into school, you don’t have to burst into tears along with her (even though your heart is breaking) – because you know that you have to hold it together for her sake.

And please don’t think I’m holding myself up as any sort of epitome of emotional maturity here – I am SUCH a work-in-progress on this.  I’m not there yet – but I know where the goal posts are, and I am ever striving towards them.

Our kids need good role models who understand emotion and deal with their feelings in a healthy way.  Parents, let’s work towards demonstrating emotional maturity as we deal with our kids and the other people in our lives who make us crazy!  

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