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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Life, Parenting, Philosophy

Shall I Compare Thee…

comparison by sean dreilinger on flickr

 

 

“Life is one race I never want to win – I’d rather stroll around enjoying the scenery”

― Aditya Chandra

It’s funny how, in some things, my boys are so different.  Just looking at how they sleep and wake up, they are a study in contrasts.

Our A is a proper early-bird.  He bounces out of bed wide awake and ready for the day.  He’s immediately ready for conversation at a normal (if not louder than normal) level, and he breakfasts soon after waking (he is now, I’m grateful to say, competent at preparing this meal independently).  Because of these early starts, he’s often ready for a nap in the afternoon – although he rarely gets to indulge in one during the school year.  He falls asleep easily when he naps; his is often the first head to nod in the car; and he tends to sleep quite solidly (whether it’s a shorter day-sleep or the full night), although he does sleep-talk fairly often.  He’s soft in his slumber, curled and nestled and cuddly – he doesn’t at all mind being woken slightly with a kiss and blanket-tuck when West and I head to bed.

B is, in this as in many other things, A’s complete opposite.  He’s our night-owl.  With very few exceptions, he simply cannot sleep during the day.  He’ll whine and complain and moan from the confines of his car seat on a long drive about how tired he is but that he can’t fall asleep.  He stopped napping the earliest of any of our boys – even jetlag doesn’t push him over the edge enough to convince him to seek slumber during the day.  Once he falls asleep (he goes to bed at the same time as A, but often struggles to settle), he may wake again for any number of reasons.  He sleepwalks, sometimes, and he often falls out of bed. When we go to lift him back onto his mattress, he straightens his limbs in protest and it becomes an ungainly balancing act to manoeuvre him onto his pillow.  He protests thickly in his sleep if we bother him too much with kisses as we tuck him in again.  He sleeps in a hard line, often angled awkwardly along his bed. Because he’s such a night owl, he sleeps in longer than the other boys – and when he wakes, he’s still tired.  He rolls out of bed (literally – *thump*!) and creeps along the hallway to the living room, collapsing onto the floor for a little snooze at regular intervals.  I’ll often pass him like this – on my way to or from the living room – and I know enough by now to just whisper a greeting and step over him.  He’s not ready for food or conversation for at least half an hour – ideally an hour or more.

C falls somewhere between the extremes of his older brothers.  He normally falls asleep well, as long as we leave the light on a bit.  He has to be a certain distance from the wall alongside his bed, so that the ‘monsters in the wall can’t tickle’ him when he sleeps; he sleeps with a couple of beloved stuffed toys in his bed, but not in his arms, ‘because they got lost once’ when he went to sleep that way…  He has some of the ease of slumber that A enjoys – he’ll drift off quickly when we’re travelling in the car and falls asleep fairly readily in other situations as well.  But he’s more like B in waking; while A would show up  silently to our bedside if he needed something in the night (startling me and making me yelp loudly on more than one occasion), B and C shout from their beds.  C will call out for blanket-adjustments, water, comfort from nightmares, philosophical discussions, or religious queries.  He will have comments and complaints and questions ready upon his night-waking; the most common ones being, “Will you sit on my bed for one minute?” and “It’s too dark to sleep!”  When he wakes in the morning, he stretches and yodels out an arpeggio, belts out a few high notes with extra vibrato, and then trots off to do his little routine (bathroom, reading, cuddle with us) before he’s quite ready for breakfast and conversation.  He is cherubic in his slumber – all tousled curls and ruby lips – and snuggles into his pillow with a half-smile when kissed good-night.

Although still a baby in many ways (he just turned two, but I have a feeling he’ll be ‘the baby’ forever!), D already has his own little sleep signature.  He went through a phase – we’re thankfully on the other side of it now – in which he required the constant presence of West or me while he was drifting into sleep; but now he only needs a little cuddle while he drinks his bottle, and (after brushing teeth), music, dummy and favourite little stuffed elephant to clutch and he’s asleep very quickly.  He still naps during the day, too – usually for a couple of hours.  It’s hard to know at this stage which of his little sleep quirks will stick, but for now he’s pretty adorable with his little bottom up in the air while he slumbers.  When he wakens each morning, he stands up in his cot – cheeks rosy and fluffy hair forming a halo around his sweet head – and calls out to us:  “Hi Mummy!  Hi Daddy!”  As I lift him from his bed and into ours, he’s full of snuggles and lisped requests:  he wants ‘walkies’, ‘eat’, ‘Gogo-Bapa’ (my parents), ‘play car’, and ‘milkies’ – and he wants them all at once.  But he is placated by the closeness of us, and he’ll dandle a strand of my hair and bestow kisses as he shares our pillows; and that will hold him for a while before he starts to wriggle and sit up to begin on his day’s activities.

They’re all different – they’re all unique, and all special.  When I was listing off their various ways of waking up to my Mum the other day, my boys were all ears.  They grinned, and giggled, at the descriptions of their quirks.  They revelled in the differences; they recognized that I was appreciating those qualities that set them apart from one another.

Why can’t my response to comparisons be like that?

When I feel compared to someone else, my immediate reaction is often to become resentful, or defensive.  Right away, I assume that I’m coming off as the loser in this comparison – in any comparison.  When I feel compared, I become competitive.

So-and-so just bought an amazing house.  Her kids are taking Japanese lessons, and the family is going to stay at a manor in England this summer.  She only shops at Whole Foods, which she can afford, because her husband is a nano-technologist.

“Oh, really?”  I want to sneer, “Well, isn’t she lucky?!”  And I start racking my brains for the last time my children said or did something intelligent and I shoot them laser-beam looks as they giggle over the milk dribbling over their chins as their too-full mouths chew too-sugary breakfast cereal spooned from chipped breakfast bowls…  I start to wonder what I’m missing, that other people have it all together and they’ve earned – earned – the admiration of whomever it is who’s giving me this news.  I’m a failure, I think, and I hand my ill-bred boys a paper towel (not a linen napkin) with which to mop their messy mouths.

But that’s not how it should be, clearly.  How much better it is to be like my kids, and revel in the differences between myself and others.  I can celebrate the uniqueness of others’ lives just as I prize my own ability to live life in a way that’s unique to me and my family.

And here’s the thing: I am far better at doing that – far better at celebrating the differences and embracing my own unique path – when I have a strong sense of myself and my priorities.  The cure for the problem of comparison leading to competition, for me, is this: recognizing my qualities; having firm plans; and upholding strong values.

It’s easy to become envious and competitive when people are talking about someone else’s achievements or acquisitions as if these things were a mark of their superiority; but when I remember that my qualities and goals are different but worthy in their own right, I am spared from feeling ‘less than’ in the face of others’ abundance.

We can lose sight of truth, beauty, and abundance in our own lives when we focus on what other people seem to have (seem to – because we can never know the true measure of a person’s life from the outside).  So we need to re-calibrate from time to time.  We need to ask ourselves – and to really delve deep in doing so – “What are my gifts, and how am I using them?”  We should strive to make the world a better place through our actions; in identifying the things that we do well, and the things we’re passionate about, we are best able to discover our place and purpose in the world.

I’m a big planner.  I love making plans – and at times in my life when I’ve been thwarted in my desire to have a firm sense of the future, I have felt frustrated and adrift.  This doesn’t mean that I’m inflexible.  It just means that I feel better when I have goals, and when I can make plans to reach those goals.  When I have a vision for what I’d like my life to look like in five, ten, twenty years, or more (God willing), I am far more secure in my own path and thus less likely to engage in petty competition to walk in someone else’s proverbial shoes.

It is important to recognize that, while who I am and what my goals are may be part of an abiding contentment with life, more essential than either of these is having a strong sense of what my core values are.

I’ve developed my value set over my lifetime; and as I mature, my unshakeable belief in these values only grows richer.  While my abilities and gifts may change over time, and while my plans and goals are altered in the face of life’s serendipity and challenge, my heart remains true to these beliefs.

Some of my core values are:

  • A belief in the benevolence, omnipotence, and omnipresence of God (who is a personal, relational, God who desires good things for all His creation)
  • A belief in the immutable value of humanity and human life (and in our responsibility to relieve poverty and suffering, fight injustice, demonstrate love and mercy, and help others)
  • A belief (stemming from the aforementioned values) that the meaning of life is, in essence, relationship. Relationship with God and relationship with others; in my estimation, these two things are paramount.

Knowing my values and trusting in the path set before me, it’s almost laughable when (for one example) I feel challenged by the material wealth of others.  I am passionate about social justice and stewardship of resources – surely those things aren’t often compatible with the acquisition and retention of personal wealth?!

When I’m sure of myself and my place in the world; when I have a sense of direction as I navigate through life; when my core beliefs are foremost in my heart and mind (where they belong) – this is when I am able to stand secure and avoid being competitive with others.

As a Mama, it’s part of my job to help my children develop these three aspects in themselves: to inspire them to find and use their gifts (and acknowledge their precious uniqueness in all of creation); to encourage them to set goals – and to hope and trust as they journey through life; and to nurture them into spiritual maturity as children of God.  We need to create in children this trifecta of strength – because this will afford them perspective and allow them to continue to delight in their differences throughout their lives, just as they do so naturally when they’re young.

“In the end, only three things will matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.”

-(Author Unknown)

 

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