Faith, Life, Philosophy

Walk in the Light

Man in fog by Ben K Adams on flickr

Winter’s on its way in this part of the world, and with the season comes the shortening of days.  It gets pretty dark in our neighbourhood once the sun has set; there are dim streetlights dotted along one side of our street but some of the side streets are unlit.

I walked in the dark to a PTA meeting the other night.  The school’s not far, and I left home at around seven, so it was hardly a dangerous hour to be walking the streets alone – and yet I still found myself on guard.

One of the curses of completing a degree in Criminology (aside from the obvious – unemployment) is that I have been exposed to the very depths of human depravity; I have witnessed enough of evil people’s perversions to make me very keen indeed to avoid the clutches of any such perpetrator.

Towards the end of my studies, I took a course in forensic science.  It was fascinating and I loved it except for the fact that it fell just before lunch; who wants a bologna sandwich after staring wide-eyed at a slideshow of gruesome crime scenes?!  Viewing the result of foul deeds in technicolour whilst receiving a blow-by-blow account of what preceded the unfortunate victim’s demise was enough to keep me clutching my personal safety alarm and eyeing my fellow transit-passengers with suspicion as I travelled home from university on dark winter evenings.

Those same feelings of raw vulnerability and alert defensiveness returned as I headed along a particularly dark stretch of road the other evening.  All the tips I’ve heard about maintaining personal safety began to flood back into my consciousness, beginning with this one:  “Walk in the light.”

As a Christian, of course, ‘Walk in the Light’ has a whole other meaning.

It doesn’t just mean, “Stay visible to stay safe” – it also means something like Live your life through the Light of the world – remain in Christ as you walk the path set before you, spiritually-speaking (or possibly something quite a lot more succinct than that).

So as these words Walk in the Light (and the phrase’s dual meaning) popped into my head, I automatically began compiling the other tips I’d heard for maintaining personal safety; by and large, I found that most of them could also be applied towards navigating the journey of life as a Christian.

Here’s my list:

Walk in the Light

Seek illumination; avoid dark places.  Not only does walking in the glow of the streetlights allow you to see any dangers lurking around you, but it also allows onlookers to provide informal surveillance for lone pedestrians; this also acts as a deterrent to potential offenders.

”Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.  What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”          -Philippians 4:8-9

Jesus is the Light of the World.  Through his example, we know what a good life looks like.  Walking in the Light involves keeping our hearts and minds fixed on holy things; keeping our hands involved in righteous work; keeping our eyes fixed on God.

“Therefore do not be partakers with them; for you were formerly darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. And do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret. But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light. For this reason it says,  “Awake, sleeper, And arise from the dead, And Christ will shine on you.”     -Ephesians 5:7-14

Stride Forwards (feign confidence if necessary)

Personal safety experts advise taking firm, determined footsteps to send the message to potential attackers that you are not an easy target.  Avoiding victimization can be as simple as walking confidently, with your head held high, even if you feel fearful.

“The LORD directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives.”

-Ps.37:23

There will always be times in life that we feel hesitant about moving forwards.  Maybe we’re in a state of uncertainty over something major, or maybe we’re just plodding along without feeling like we have much of a sense of direction.  But the Bible makes it clear that we are to walk confidently on the path set before us, even when we feel unsure; we are not to be mired in place by guilt over past regrets; we are not to be bound by fear and indecision.  Instead, we are exhorted to look forward with hope to the promises of the life to come, and to trust that God walks with us on the journey.

Choose Victory:

Attitude matters.  Experts point out that some people’s body language automatically casts them as a potential victim.  Slumped shoulders, shuffling gait, arms swinging limply by their sides or clutching an armload of things – these are the marks of an easy target.  Thinking that you’re weak and vulnerable can make you weaker and more vulnerable; acting confident, even if you have been victimized in the past, can help you to avoid becoming the target of another’s aggression or ill intentions.

“For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”          -Matthew 5:45

There are many people who, because of past hurts, continue to view themselves as victims.  They go through life expecting others to treat them badly, and they do.  They expect the worst, and the worst happens.  They remember the rainy days and forget about the sunshine.  And they forget that ‘the rain falls equally on the just and on the unjust’; being a child of God doesn’t offer us blanket immunity from the pain and sorrow of this world.

In life, we have a choice.  We can choose to be defined by our failures and the things others have done to hurt us; we can live in a mire of bitterness and envy – or we can choose, instead, to claim victory over our life.  We can choose to find fulfillment in the promises of faith and the relationship we have in Christ. We can choose hope. 

“I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace.  In this world, you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”      -John 16:33

Beware of Stumbling Blocks (and Distractions)

Knowing your route is key to navigating in the dark.  Being aware of impediments to your progress will help you avoid injury and allow you to get to where you’re going quickly and safely.  Keeping your wits about you and avoiding distractions like loud music and cell phones helps you to stay focused on your destination and mitigate against potential hazards.

We all have our weak points.  Pride, envy, lust… You know the list – and you probably know which boxes you should tick next to your own particular vices.  These are all stumbling blocks to truly experiencing freedom and joy.  They are all impediments to living successfully.

“Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble.”  – 2 Peter 1:10

Similarly, it is easy to get distracted.  Chasing happiness, following our own desires instead of pursuing Christ’s purpose for our life, and indulging in fleeting pleasures of worldly things pull us off course and divert us from the goal of walking wholly in relationship with God and our fellow man.

“But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.” – Matthew 16:23

Face Your Fears

If you feel like someone might be following you, experts advise turning around and acknowledging them.  This doesn’t mean that you have to be confrontational all the time; in fact, crossing the street or taking other evasive measures would be preferable – but in the event that you can’t outrun a pursuer, it is advisable to turn around and face him head-on.

There’s a lot of ‘take heart’ and ‘don’t be afraid’ verses in the Bible.  Pretty much anywhere you encounter fear in the Bible you will see it in the context of being courageous in spite of your fear.  Fear and anxiety, as most people who have experienced phobias will tell you, can be crippling; but God doesn’t want us to be bound by fear.  As the Bible says, we can ‘call upon the Lord’ in times of trouble – he makes his own strength available to us.  We don’t have to cower.  We needn’t be frozen by fear.  We can be courageous in facing our fears because God will act in us and through us in spite of our human weaknesses.

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9

Be Bright

As a safety measure, this just makes sense: wearing bright colours and some form of illumination when you’re walking at night can help prevent you from being hit by a car or bike – and it helps other pedestrians to notice and acknowledge you, too, which is a deterrent to anyone who might be on the lookout to rob or otherwise assault a lone traveller.

“Always look on the bright side of life…” – Monty Python said it best!  But it’s not some sort of Pollyanna-esque attitude of cheeriness that I’m advocating here.  Being positive and optimistic in your life is a natural by-product of a deeply ingrained sense of hope.  Contentment, too, leads to a joyful demeanor.  So, as we’d choose bright clothing to reflect the light of traffic and help us to be visible for personal safety, so should we choose a mindset of hope to reflect our faith in God’s perfect plan.

“The LORD delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.” – Psalm 147:11

Keep Company

There is strength in numbers, as the saying goes.  Connecting with others along your route – strolling alongside a buddy or calling out greetings to familiar faces as you go – can help you to stay safe as you walk at night.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again (and again, and again): life is about relationship.  Fellowship is crucial for authentic growth; we might gain great spiritual insight through solo communion with God, but it is in putting that wisdom into practice as we walk alongside others that we truly grow in faith.

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” – Hebrews 10:24-25

Put Your Sneakers On

Be prepared.  Tottering around in high heels may be fashion-forward, but it’s a foolish choice if you have to take a walk alone in the dark.  You need to be ready to run or even just to stand firmly in case of trouble.

There’s a lot of practical advice in the Bible.  The Ten Commandments, for starters, are not just ‘helpful suggestions’, but rock-solid instructions for enjoying God’s goodness in this life.  God’s Word is the bedrock on which we can build our lives; it provides a firm foundation.  Knowing the Word, we can then be ready for action – ready to face whatever life throws at us.

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”  -Matthew 7:24-27

Don’t Be Shy About Calling for Help

When people feel physically threatened they are sometimes reluctant to call for help – they’re hesitant about drawing attention to themselves, or causing a scene in case they’ve read things incorrectly and they end up ‘making a big deal out of nothing’.  But the best advice is to seek the assistance of others or call the police emergency line whenever you feel that your safety is at risk.  Better safe than sorry!

The Bible reminds us, time and again, to help one another and to be willing to let others help us.  God’s Word also reminds us to lean on Him in times of trouble, and to call to the Lord for strength in times of need.

“In my distress I called upon the LORD; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears.”    -Psalm 18:6

Trust Your Intuition

If you have a feeling that you’re being watched or that you are in danger, trust your instincts and act accordingly.  Personal safety experts advise you to always trust your intuition about people and situations.  If you don’t feel safe, it’s possible that you aren’t safe.  Go with your gut.

Intuition, spoken of in the Bible as discernment or ‘understanding’, is the ability to sense the presence of good and evil.  In the secular world, it is hardly spoken of as such, but the Bible makes it clear that this ability is a gift bestowed by God; it is a gift given to us in order that we might distinguish things that are from him (good) or things that will harm us (evil).  Christians must understand that to exercise this ability to its fullest extent we are required to be rooted in the One whose counsel admonishes us to ‘flee from evil’ and to ‘seek good’.

“But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.”                      -Hebrews 5:14

“Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; Whoever is discerning, let him know them For the ways of the LORD are right, And the righteous will walk in them, But transgressors will stumble in them.” – Hosea 14:9

So there’s my list – it’s my best advice for keeping safe, and for thriving in your spiritual life as well.

Walk in the Light!

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Faith, Life, Motherhood

The Trouble with ‘Me’ Time

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As a busy Mamma, everyone tells you the value – no, the necessity – of taking time out for yourself.  It would be impossible to manage the amount of giving, doing, looking after and caring for others that motherhood requires of us without having the opportunity to refuel at times.

If you read any popular magazines, particularly those aimed at women (and especially those directed at mothers), you’re bound to find articles about making time for ‘me’.  Many of them will offer advice about how to find the time, and the necessity of doing so, as well as what to do when you have given yourself that time.  Spas feature heavily in this type of article, and no wonder; what could be more appealing to someone whose life revolves around caring for other people than to go somewhere or do something that involves pampering for herself.  And I’m not trying to persuade you that there’s anything particularly wrong with that – I’m even hoping for a spa gift certificate for Mother’s Day (that’s a hint, West!) – but what I wonder is, with all the marketing of this practice, does it really live up to the hype?

Taking time away from your regular life to re-set, re-focus, refuel, restore, and relax is a valuable practice.  God thought so, anyway, which is why he created the Sabbath – and since I’ve thrown my lot in with him I’m inclined to agree about setting aside some space in my life for this purpose.

But here’s the trouble with ‘me’ time, as it is defined by the world of advertising and ‘common’ sense:

It’s all about taking away.

‘Me’ time, by definition, is time taken away from your regular commitments – a ‘get-away’ from the ordinary routine – to focus on yourself.

I am for this – I, too, am inundated in my day-to-day life by the demands of a household, extra-curricular pursuits, and the voices, noises, and needs of other people.  Somanyotherpeople. So ‘getting away’ from all of this for a temporary reprieve definitely seems to me to be a sanity-saver, and thus I am on board.

However

It’s not enough.

It’s finite.

‘Me’ time is about stripping away the stresses of life; and as soon as you step back into position, you have as much on your plate as you had before.  Any serenity you may have gained from being in a peaceful place or enjoying some pampering is fleeting once you re-join normal life.

I’ve done this calculation before, when I’ve had a gift certificate in my hot little hand and I’m working out when to go for this long-awaited pampering massage – I look at my calendar and I try to figure out when would be the best time to go so that I’d get the most relaxation out of it.  Having a massage the day before one of my sons’ birthday parties, for instance, would be ludicrous.  The very next day I’d be running around like a headless chicken, stressing out over the details and the cake…  Similarly, I’d want to avoid going for my spa session just after a late night – what a waste it would be to fall asleep on the massage table and miss it altogether!  A lot of decision-making goes into maximizing the relaxing effect of this ‘me’ time.

But then, no matter how hard I try to make that peace last, and no matter how carefully I have planned to keep that blissful feeling as long as possible – it’s over.  The tension creeps back into my shoulders, something or someone is loud, irritating, or demanding – and I’m back where I started.

The trouble with ‘me’ time is that its effects are only temporary.  It is only a temporary stripping away of those things that will inevitably catch up with us and overwhelm us yet again.

So what, then, can we do?  What could possibly be more, and lastingly, restorative and refreshing?

We can have ‘God’ time.

We can spend time in prayer.  We can read the Bible, a devotional, or an inspirational website; or we can attend a church service.  We can retreat to a quiet corner of the house (or the car!) and turn up some worship tunes.  We can get out for a walk alone and talk to God as we go.

The difference between ‘God’ time and ‘me’ time is that when we spend time with God and when we devote space in our lives to seeking his heart, we are truly restored; we are filled up, fortified and prepared to return to the demands of our everyday lives.  We are given peace, contentment, hope and joy that don’t just evaporate with the first challenge that comes our way; instead, this ‘filling up’ continues as we return to our regular routines.  When we spend ‘me’ time, we return to the fray with momentarily less; we’ve enjoyed a short and temporary shedding of our cares – but when we spend ‘God’ time, we step back into our lives with more.

‘God’ time doesn’t just take away our cares; it also furnishes us with the means of dealing with those burdens that sap our energy and increase our stress.  We return from our quiet time restored, refreshed and equipped.  Connecting with God charges us up so that our spiritual and emotional batteries don’t run on empty.

So the next time you’re craving some ‘me’ time – try some ‘God’ time, instead.

 

photo by holly on flickr.  License here: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/legalcode

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Life, Parenting

Foam or Fury?

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In my neck of the woods, we parents of school-age kids have just suffered through enjoyed Spring Break.  I’ve therefore been out in public more with my brood and had the opportunity to observe others who are similarly emerging from their winter hibernation with their offspring.

In doing so, I’ve noticed that there is a spectrum in terms of the input we offer our kids, and this spectrum could be compared to the earth’s layers – strata ranging from the foamy bubbles atop a pond way down to the boiling lava in our planet’s core…

On the top layer, we have what I’d call the ‘bubble parents’.  These are the ones on the sidelines watching their kids budge ahead in the science centre queue, saying ineffectual things like, “Oh, Rosie – there was a lineup!” while taking no action whatsoever.  The ones allowing their kids to hit them to get their attention without any instruction on how to do better. The ones whose kids’ demands dictate their every move. This is very much the lightweight approach to parenting; fluffy and fun with no firmness or gravity or depth.  Discipline and guidance are pretty much non-existent and misbehaviour doesn’t seem to bother them.  They don’t offer reminders for their kids to use ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ or other thoughtful words. The classic line from these parents is, “Oh, boys will be boys!” as their boys are hitting and yelling, destroying property and disrupting the play of others.  Their classic move is the shrug.

Way on the other end of the spectrum are the ‘lava parents’; these guys are the complete opposite to ‘bubble’ parents because for them everything matters, and it matters a lot.  In fact, most of their kids’ behaviour seems intolerable to them.  The classic reaction of these parents is to blow up and overreact; they dish out big consequences for even the most trivial of misdemeanors.  The classic move is the eye-roll-exasperated-sigh combo (often with a complementary crossed-arm-fold thrown in for good measure).

These parental temperaments/behaviours are not the exception for true ‘bubble’ parents and their ‘lava’ counterparts; they are the norm.  While you or I might occasionally exhibit something like a ‘bubble’ shrug or ignore some behaviour in order to ensure that we’re not ‘sweating the small stuff’, this is not considered, intentional behaviour for real bubble parents – it is their default, and it is often borne of ignorance about the necessity of teaching and modeling responsible behaviour and consideration for others.  Similarly, lava parents default to the kind of angry outbursts you or I would be embarrassed about and remorseful over.  They simmer with resentment and rage and behave as if their kids are devoid of charm or worth.

I’d say that most of us fall in layers somewhere in between these extremes.  And I believe that there’s plenty of room for different parenting styles.  Earthy parents, gritty parents, rocky parents (oh, to be so cool!), even flaky parents – we’re all different and we all have reasons for why we parent the way we do; some of those reasons (and the resulting actions) are good and some of them are bad.  I yell too much – and I’d definitely be further along on the spectrum towards ‘lava’ parenting – but I will continue to take great pains to avoid allowing this kind of overreaction and anger to my boys’ behaviour to be my standard response*.

All I’m saying is, if we find that our parenting default setting has become I just couldn’t be bothered or everything my kids do bugs me, then perhaps some action is in order.

Maybe if our default is either foam or fury, we should do some digging – and find some middle ground.

 

 

 

 

*As I’ve admitted, I do yell too much.  So I’ve been doing some digging…  I have decided to take the Orange Rhino challenge and work towards a more peaceful approach.  Recently, at a Mums’ group, I admitted that I’d never allow Westley to speak to me the way I sometimes speak to my kids; so the logical conclusion to that is that I should not be speaking to my kids in a way that isn’t equally respectful and honouring to them.

If you’re struggling with the same thing, why don’t you join me on the challenge, and we can keep one another accountable?

I’m starting with a ten day goal, to be extended as I get better at it!

Thanks for reading,

-Trix.

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Faith, Grace, Motherhood, Parenting

Grace

“The present is the only time in which any duty can be done or any grace received.”

-CS Lewis, in The Weight of Glory

It had been one of those days.  Or weeks. Or months.  In fact, for as long as I could remember, A.’s behaviour had been driving me up the wall.  He was seven (nearly eight), and it seemed that for most of his life I had been battling his attention-seeking naughtiness, lip-jutting defiance, and mercurial mood-swings – add to that the nail-biting, thumb-sucking, and eye-rolling nervous habits that were slowly becoming more and more worrying, and  I was at my wit’s end.  Finally the end of the day had come, and with it the blessed relief of some kid-free time (much of which, it must be admitted, I would spend searching out ways of dealing with the aforementioned issues).

I flicked on the TV for some background noise as I pulled my laptop onto my knees and began to catch up on emails.  There was some sort of musical show on that I hadn’t seen before (in retrospect, it might have been ‘Glee’), and in it, a couple of teenagers were falling in love.  Such sweet, enthralled innocence as they declared their fledgling love.  Their enchantment with one another caught my eye, and I abandoned my online tasks as I watched the scene play out.

The young girl rested her hand on her new beau’s shoulder and gazed up into his smiling face; and I suddenly imagined this scene playing out in my own eldest son’s life as he fell in love for the first time. I was stricken with a thought: What if this was the first time he has EVER really felt loved and accepted UNCONDITIONALLY??!   It was with gut-wrenching clarity that I realized that my love for my son had hitherto been expressed with so many conditions as to hobble his very sense of worth.

This was a child I had loved from before he came into existence; one I had wanted, and prayed for and delighted in; one I would give my very life for.  Of course I loved my son unconditionally. This was the child who, when given a special snack at preschool, would insist on a portion of his helping being bundled up to take home to his little brother.  The child who deferred to the wants and needs of almost everyone else before expressing his own preference for anything.  The child who approached others with open arms and ready hugs, even before he had been properly introduced.  And yet this child of mine, who loved and forgave transgressions in others so readily and so completely, was suffering because I was not demonstrating that love and forgiveness to him.

I was spending so much time and energy trying to change what I saw as A.’s problematic behaviour that he could have been excused for imagining that I was oblivious to all the things he was doing right.  I was so focused on the negative that, in fact, I was becoming blind to the positive.

I made a decision right then – one I have returned to again and again (because I, too, am a work in progress) – that I was going to have to change my perspective.

I had to start focusing on what A. was doing well.  I needed to let A. know that I loved and accepted him unconditionally; he didn’t need to wait until he was perfect.  He didn’t need to worry about messing up, because there would always be forgiveness.  He didn’t need to worry about me missing all the good stuff by nit-picking over the little flaws I saw, because I was going to start pointing out how wonderful he was.  And I was going to try to stop seeing some of those flaws, too.  Because when we love each other, we need to be blind to some of one another’s failings.  We have to be prepared to extend grace.  I kind of already knew this, as a recipient of Grace, as a Christian – I knew that God never waited for me to be worthy to extend His love and mercy to me – and yet somehow I was unwittingly withholding that grace from one I hold dearer than life itself.

I didn’t make that decision because I wanted to see change in my son.  I made that decision because I needed to see a change in me.  But grace is grace – and grace changes everything.

My little boy has blossomed.  Yes, he still has some nervous habits and he still struggles with his feelings and he still makes bad choices sometimes.  He still conducts experiments that result in destruction and he still blows up with frustration when he gets overwhelmed and he still sometimes acts defiant… But he knows that he is loved.  He is so quick to apologize when he messes up, and he’s so sincere about that apology.  He is such a loving and cuddly kid, even at age nine when some of his friends won’t even hug their Mums in public.  I delight in him, and he knows it.  Sure, I sometimes yell – we laugh about it, because he knows that I’m a work in progress, too – and then he forgives me.  So now I don’t worry that he is thirsting for love and acceptance.

I’ve chosen grace, and grace changes everything.

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