Turning the Page
When You Have to Handle Criticism

When You Have to Handle Criticism

January 21, 2021

Criticism can hurt, bruise and extinguish our hearts, but learning how to handle criticism can build new strength and resilience.

I could see the hope drain out of him as I watched both the subtle and not so subtle criticisms land upon him.

I was in a meeting with a guy I was supporting, and we were problem-solving.

Every solution he suggested was shot down. It was one little cat scratch after another. He would say a few words, and the critic would speak five hundred back.

The poor guy, I thought. I wondered what it was like when he was alone with this woman. No wonder he was depressed, anxious, and stuck.

Criticism can strangle a heart till it gives up and doesn’t try anymore. The words of a critic start to be believed as a truth in your own being. Your inner critic starts negating you. You’re on a downward spiral.

And look, some people don’t know how to give encouragement and praise. They think if they do give praise and encouragement, it might go to your head. So in a warped kind of way, they think they are doing you a service.

‘Can’t have you getting a big head,’ they say.

Criticism is a matter of the heart.

When someone is routinely criticized, it slowly becomes a matter of the heart—the seat of the emotions.

Courage is slowly sapped out of the heart, and despair begins to grow.

In the word ‘courage,’ we find the Latin word cor, which literally means “heart.” To have courage means to have heart.

Criticism sucks the life out of the heart.

What is your heart like when you have been criticized?

Does it in someway feel bruised and battered, like it has been in a fight with a schoolyard bully.

Maybe it feels exhausted like a blown-out candle. All that is left is a faint glow and some wispy smoke.

The Offer of gentleness

There is a beautiful passage of ancient scripture in the book of Isaiah that prophetically talks about what Jesus is like.

A bruised reed he will not break,
    and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; Isaiah 42:3

Imagine you see a swamp full of reeds.

A wild storm, full of energy, has come through, and because they are tall and vulnerable, they have been bruised and battered in the strong winds.

They are now struggling to get themselves back to full glory and purpose.

Christ comes to the stand of reeds, and there is such a gentleness to his approach that as he walks through them, he doesn’t break a single one.

Instead, the very presence of being with them in their bruised state helps them recover. ‘You will recover, I am with you; let’s do this together.’

The second imagery is that of a smoldering wick.

A candle that was once glowing bright with light and purpose has been blown out by the energetic buffeting winds of criticism.

There is nothing left but the wisps of faint small ash floating away.

There might still be a slight small glow, hunting for oxygen to reignite, but nothing comes.

The Christ won’t come and stub it out. Jesus won’t wet his fingers and squash the life out of the struggle. Instead, with a gentleness of breath, he breathes on the embers and causes them to reignite.

With Christ, there is an assurance of both presence and justice.

Christ, who knows all and sees all, can bring truth to the whole of the struggle.

God is not a god who will add to your pain.

So often, many people feel that in their deepest pain that God is also judging them. That, along with the battering from the storms of life that God is also harshly judging them and raining down punishment.

God never adds criticism to our earthly load.

I can be assured that my heart, which has been bruised and blown out, that God won’t add to the pain.

How to Handle Criticism

So how do we handle criticism?

Firstly, in the best sense of the word ‘critique,’ there is value in having something analyzed and assessed. We can learn valuable lessons when someone is willing to give good and helpful feedback.

The problem comes when the energy changes from being helpful to being harsh and abusive. It’s an energy and power dynamic that is happening.

So here are some suggestions on how to handle criticism.

Here is an example that we can use.

The criticism is that your husband raises his voice and criticises the way you ‘always leave the kitchen a mess.’  He raises this and other issues around household tidiness all the time. He does very little to keep things sorted around the house himself but is always quick to target you.

So here are some pointers on how to handle criticism.

 1. Is there something you can learn and grow from in this?
Use this as a learning opportunity. Perhaps there is something you could do better. All of us can learn new things.

2. Consider that their criticism may be saying more about them than it does about you.

What does his continuous stream of criticism say about him? Does he know how to give nonabusive feedback? What was modeled to him about praise and encouragement? Is he stressed out from work or other pressures?

This doesn’t mean his abuse is ok or acceptable, but it might explain it. Perhaps he was the victim of harsh criticism, and this is all he knows.

So don’t take it so personally. It might not be about you at all.

3. Notice the feelings being generated in you and take note of the energy coming from them.

What feelings bubble up in you? Does something get triggered? What are the old thought pathways that you always take when situations like this happen?’

I’m so useless. Can’t get anything right …’

4. Breathe
Take a few deep gentle breaths and center yourself back in the now. Notice the thoughts and feelings and see them for what they are.

They are simply thoughts and feelings that you can choose how to act out of.

5. See the situation for what it is.
Don’t attach more to the problem than what there is.

This is a problem with kitchen tidiness—nothing more, nothing less. Don’t attach your personal value to whether the kitchen is tidy or not!

6. Don’t give like for like.
An eye for an eye makes both people blind. If you fire back criticism, you will add fuel to the fire, and the problem won’t get resolved.

7. Go pragmatic
See the problem as just that—a problem to be solved. 

Whenever I have been under attack, I like to listen deeply and repeat what I have heard them say.

‘So what I heard you say is that you want me to clean the kitchen better? Did I get that right?’

When you do this, you narrow the problem down to the real problem and away from personalization.

You might like to follow this up with further questions to shift it away from emotional high energy to a logical and constructive place.

‘What does a tidy kitchen look like to you?’
‘Can we reorganize the kitchen, so it is easier to keep clean?’
‘Can we encourage other members of the family to put away dirty dishes?

It’s that shifting out of the emotional reaction mode into a quiet, rational, and thoughtful problem-solving mode.

It’s changing the energy and power dynamics.

8. Give yourself praise and encouragement.

If you leave it up to others to give you a sense of validation and worth, then it’s going to be a roller coaster ride. Criticism is going to crush.

Instead, give yourself the praise and encouragement you need. Learn the practice of encouraging yourself.

Handling criticism is a practiced skill. You learn it by doing it over and over again. Each time you do it, you gain a little more confidence.

Criticism can hurt, bruise and extinguish our hearts, but learning how to handle criticism can build new strength and resilience.

Are You A Critical Person

Perhaps you’re the one that is always criticizing others.

Some questions for you to consider

  • Are your expectations realistic?
  • Have you listened well before handing out a criticism?
  • What is the emotional energy that is under the criticism?
  • Where have you learned these criticism behaviors from?
  • What would it be like to be as the receiver of your criticisms?
  • Are you able to give encouragement and praise instead of criticism?

Quotes to consider

  • Praise and encouragement is much more effective in changing others’
    behaviour than is criticism, but which do you use on yourself? David Riddell
  • Encouragement breeds encouragement. Be sure to give it to your spouse before looking for some yourself. David Riddell
  • Care about what other people think, and you will always be their prisoner. Lao Tzu
  •  He has a right to criticize who has a heart to help. Abraham Lincoln
  • To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing. Elbert Hubbard
  • Any fool can criticize, complain, and condemn—and most fools do. But it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving. Dale Carnegie
  • He who throws dirt always loses ground. Unknown

Questions to answer

  1. What happens in you when you are criticized?
  2. Why is it easier to criticize than it is to give encouragement and praise?
  3. What does it do in your heart to know that God will not join in on criticizing you?

Further reading

Barry Pearman

Photo by Apostolos Vamvouras on Unsplash

The One Thing to Remember when the Emotional Pain is too much

The One Thing to Remember when the Emotional Pain is too much

January 16, 2021

Emotional pain can bump our lives into behaviors that can hurt us further. But we can make a change by learning to listen to the pain, where it’s sourced, and what it wants us to do.

He was in pain. I could see it, feel it, and totally understand it. I couldn’t take his emotional pain away, but I did want him to know one thing.

She was also was in pain. In everything she said and did, there was an expression of emotional pain. I wanted her to know this one thing.

The bumps of emotional pain

We all experience emotional pain. Possibly pain has been one of the most contributing factors in the development of your self. You get hurt; you avoid what hurt you. The sharp chisel blows of life in some way have shaped your very being and doing.

I keep thinking of bumper boats careering into you, pushing you this way and that.

Perhaps when people express the words ‘God, I want to die,’ they are really simply wanting the pain to end.

That pain of loneliness, abuse, shame, guilt, loss, rejection, etc.

Those painful feelings become so overwhelming that they block out any light.

The pain becomes such a normative experience that any belief that there is a life without that pain is beyond belief. When you’re in that place, there is no light. You’re surrounded and alone, in a darkness that is pounding against you.

Storm waves of emotional pain keep crashing against the architecture of your brain.

A Vicar is needed

Jesus experienced pain. There was the crucifixion’s physical pain, which is beyond our understanding, but there was also the emotional pain. Something that we can understand.

There was the pain of betrayal, vulnerable naked exposure, abuses, mocking, abandonment, rejection. Name the emotional pain, and Jesus would have experienced it.

One of the most liberating words I have ever discovered is the word ‘Vicarious.’

It simply means to ‘do something or experience something in place of another.’

Vicar Jesus lived a perfect life on your behalf. He got everything right.

Christ has also experienced every imaginable emotional pain that you are going through. He knows what being fully human is fully like.

You have to ask yourself this question. ‘Would you trust a tour guide who hasn’t actually walked the path’?

Jesus has walked the path and got the emotional wounds to prove it.

Meet Your New Vicar

When I am in emotional pain, I want a vicar. Someone who has been there, done that, and without any F.A.S.S. attitudes (Fixing, Advising, Saving, or ‘Setting one straight).

When you are in emotional pain, you want connection.

Alone, I die. Together, we climb.

A vicar will be someone who will help you tease out the pain. What is the pain, and where is it coming from. What are the bumps and knocks causing you to do?

They will also see where your pain takes you. Out of our being flows our doing. What habits have you created in your life to cope with emotional pain?

Has that pain led to habits and demands to work harder, keep busy, perfectionism?

The pain has an invite.

What does your pain invite or even demand you to do?

Pain can invite you into addictions: the bottle, the drugs, the porn.

Maybe the shopping mall, the binge eating, the self-harm.

Anything that numbs the loneliness, the shame, the loss.

The young man who rings the bell at the brothel is unconsciously looking for God. Bruce Marshall. The World, the Flesh and Father Smith

The invite of the brothel, or the porn website, is ‘Come. For the briefest of moments, we can dull the pain out of your existence’.

The one thing to remember.

You’re not alone.

I want to talk about the pain I carry, but who will listen without F.A.S.S.‘ing me.

We need to know that we’re not alone. When we are alone with our emotional pain, we quickly and easily succumb to the doing of things to dull the pain. We self medicate.

I have a friend who has been there done that. Knows every imaginable pain that humanity has within itself.

So I write to P.A.P.A.  I journal and express that pain. As I express something gets relieved. Like the tension on a stretched out rubber band, it becomes relaxed.

Some people draw and create art. Some write songs and sing. (think the laments of the psalms and lamentations)

As I express, there is a quiet, soothing whisper that comes to console. Of course, you have to learn to listen for the words ‘I am with you,’ but in the darkness, they are always there.

Then perhaps a new millimeter step of hope creeps into our being. A little movement can be a whole lot.

We don’t need to reach for the stars when we have stardust in our hands.

It’s a gradual thing—small millimeter steps.

There will always be some element of emotional pain whilst in this human existence, but it doesn’t have to the dominant force. It can simply part of our shadow. There, but not dominating our vision.

You’re not alone, never have been, never will be.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened [carrying emotional pain], and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Jesus Matthew 11:28-30

More Vicars Needed

We need more good listeners who can point in their worn sandaled way to how their emotional pain has been transformed into something sacred and good.

It’s about listening and being ‘with someone.’ So that when the emotional pain demands relief, wisdom is on the offer. A new millimeter path is available to take.

It’s taking those journal scribbles and notes and gently reading between the lines to where the pain is. Then offering a prayer of ‘being with them.’

Emotional pain can bump our lives into behaviors that can hurt us further. But we can make a change by learning to listen to the pain, where it’s sourced, and what it wants us to do.

Quotes to consider

  • The heart and the key to the Christian message is the vicarious nature of the life of Christ. Yes, He died for you, but He also lived as you, and performed on your behalf. David Riddell
  • Emotional pain always results when life’s experiences go beyond the answers we already have. Dig deeper for more wisdom or go on hurting. David Riddell
  • Those who do not turn to face their pain are prone to impose it. Terrence Real
  • Redeemed pain is more impressive to me than removed pain Phillip Yancey.
  • Suffering often shapes and teaches us and precedes most significant resurrections. Richard Rohr
  • Pain is the rent we pay for being human, it seems, but suffering is usually optional. Richard Rohr
  • Unless a bishop, teacher, or minister has on some level walked through suffering, failure, or humiliation, his or her words will tend to be fine but superficial, OK but harmless, heard by the ears but unable to touch the soul. Richard Rohr

Questions to answer

  1. Can you give examples of emotional pain?
  2. What behaviors or actions do you have that flow out of emotional pain?
  3. What quote above spoke to you the most?

Further reading

Barry Pearman

Photo by Taras Chernus on Unsplash

 

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Four steps to Build A New Trust

Four steps to Build A New Trust

January 8, 2021

Trust can get broken so easily, but we can build a new trust by cognitively reassessing our situations.  It takes time and effort, but it is worth it.

There was a rebuilding that needed to happen. It was a rebuilding of trust in themselves and with others.

Somewhere, some time, every one of us is going to have our trust broken. We live with an expectation that certain things will happen the way we believe they will happen. The rules won’t get broken. That the promises made will be kept.

But trust gets broken in many different areas of our lives.

  • relationships
  • career
  • health
  • Government
  • Church
  • God

I once sat with a man who, in his late forties, discovered he had manic depressive episodes.

Up till then, everything seemed fine. His wife told me that he had had a few strange moments in his life with some weird ideas, but for the most part, he lived within the bounds of what anyone would call normal.

Then all of a sudden, his illness truly took control, and he started acting highly erratically. He was admitted into the psych ward and began the journey into an awareness of his broken self.

With medication, support, and guidance, he returned to his family and started to rebuild his life. But there was a deep loss of trust in himself, his world, and his God.

As he talked with me, there was a need to rebuild trust in himself. The beliefs he had about himself, life, and God were all lying in rubble.

Trust questions knawed at his soul.

  • Do I trust my thinking?
  • Where was God?
  • What do I believe now?
  • Who do I trust?

Shame and guilt pounded on his soul. ‘What a fool’ was spoken out more than once.

When you’re in a hole, it’s easy to drown in the dirt you’re digging in.

Broken trust Bible

The Bible is full of stories where trust has been broken.

  • Josephs relationship with his brothers
  • Davids affair with Bathsheba
  • Peters denial of Jesus Christ

With each of these moments, there was a time where there was a breach of trust.

Joseph trusted his brothers, but they sold him into slavery. Could he trust them again?

David broke marriage vows and commitments to God. Could he be trustworthy again as a man and as a leader?

Peter broke his trust relationship with Jesus by denying him and leaving him alone. Could Jesus trust him again?

All of these examples, plus many more, show the fragility of trust. Trust is finite; life is fragile.

There is a Fragility

As I sat with the man discovering his manic depressive illness, I witnessed his awareness grow about his fragility.

That given the right amount of stress, lack of sleep, and with a body that was vulnerable in its own particular way, then the fragility would crack. He would become unwell and unstable.

https://turningthepage.co.nz/build-a-new-trust-requires-cognitive-reassessments/

He was becoming aware of his weaknesses.

Before the breakdown, he would have given theoretical assent to this weakness, but now he was truly knowing and embracing it on a soul level.

He could have talked about physical weaknesses on a theological level, but now he was searching for God amongst the rubble of his own torn down city.

There is a fragility in life we can’t control and is open to breaches of trust.

Cognitive reassessments

Rebuilding trust requires the ‘brick by brick’ work of cognitively reassessing that which we are trusting in.

A cognitive reassessment means to look at the facts. The brick and mortar of the situation. Is there change? What actually has been done?

Brick by brick, we can build it from the floor
If we hold on to each other,
we’ll be better than before. Train

Four steps to Build A New Trust Cognitive reassessments

Our subconscious can be reprogrammed through cognitive reassessments of behaviors.

Joseph had to do a cognitive reassessment of his brothers to see whether they could be trusted again. He did this by giving them several tests.

David could not be trusted to be leader and King again without going through his dark night of the soul. The behaviors of repentance and sorrow marked a changed life.

Jesus could once again trust Peter when he saw the brokenness of his heart.  He had to tell Peter three times of his trust in him.

Build a new trust

How do we build a new trust in ourselves and others?

There is a process, and it requires deep listening into the soul.

 1. Listen for the voices of mistrust
We all have those voices of mistrust that say, ‘Don’t trust, you’ll get hurt again.’ We need to recognize them and pay attention to them, but we don’t necessarily have to agree with them.

Those whispers may well be the subconscious brain trying to keep us safe.

They are there for a reason. What would the reason be?

2. Look for the facts
We can so easily get caught up in the emotions of the past that we judge the present by the past.

Instead, we need to look for the facts of the now.

We look for the changes made. Tangible, observable, and real.

Is there evidence of a change?

3. Know your lines of love and respect
Many people use the word ‘Boundaries,’ but I prefer ‘Lines of Love and Respect.’

It’s that line where you have a sense of love and respect for yourself and others.

‘I show love and respect for others by not calling them in the middle of the night wanting to have a chat. I know that if I did, I would be ‘crossing a line.”

‘Others demonstrate love and respect for me by the behaviors of not calling me in the middle of the night. They understand that this would be ‘crossing a line.”

Four steps to Build A New Trust  Cognitive reassessments

Understanding and accepting your own needs of love and respect is part of rebuilding trust in yourself and others.

When people continue to show disrespect or an unloving approach to the lines of love and respect I have around me, I begin to trust them less.

If someone keeps ringing me in the middle of the night, showing no respect for my needs of sleep and rest, then the line becomes a fence, then a wall with barbed wire, then a wall with machine guns and guard dogs.

Sometimes you have to tell people your ‘lines of love and respect.’

At times, you have to repeatedly tell them and then follow up any breaches with natural consequences.

Trust builds when everyone agrees on the lines of love and respect.

When people keep ‘crossing the line,’ and you have to enforce some consequences, remember you are not rejecting them; instead, you are rejecting their behaviors.

How can you walk as one with someone unless there is a level of trust?

Can two walk together, unless they are agreed? Amos 3:3

4. Rehearse the truth

What is the truth that you are thinking out of?

We often need to tell ourselves new truths that will rebuild a sense of trust in ourselves and others.

  • ‘That was then; this is now.’
  • ‘I am no longer the same person I was then.’
  • ‘The past does not define who I am. I choose to live in the present.’
  • ‘I am not the mistakes I have made.’
  • ‘I have changed. I have grown.’
  • ‘I am no longer doing those same things I did back then.’
  • ‘I now have these guardrails in place.’
  • ‘I now understand Early Warning Signs
  • ‘I have lines of love and respect in my relationships (boundaries)’
  • ‘I don’t have to walk with someone I am not in agreement with.’

Trust can get broken so easily, but we can build new trust by cognitively reassessing the situations we are in.  It takes time and effort, but it is worth it.

Quotes to consider

  • “I didn’t reject you, I rejected your behaviour. Change your behaviour, before we can walk together again.” D. Riddell
  • Just because you forgive someone does not mean you must trust them – that has to be earned back again. David Riddell
  • How can I re-assess you until you demonstrate your changed mind? Until then I must keep you trapped in your past, for restitution must come before restoration of trust. D. Riddell
  • God is no stranger to the process of repairing damaged relationships. His trust has been broken many times by those he loves. John Townsend and Dr. Cloud Henry
  • You get your confidence and intuition back by trusting yourself, by being militantly on your own side. Anne Lamott
  • Rebuilding shattered trust necessitates reliable actions over time. Stefanie Carnes 
  • Talk’s easy, work’s hard. Consistent trustworthy behavior over time equals trust. Notice the word consistent is emphasized. Consistency is the key to the process. This becomes an even greater challenge because “addiction is a disorder that is characterized by relapse.” Stefanie Carnes 
  • We forgive, but we base our trust on the trustworthiness of the other person. Timothy R. Jennings 

Questions to answer

  1. Are you still held back by voices saying not to trust? Why are those thoughts there?
  2. What are your ‘Lines of love and respect’?
  3. What truths do you need to feed your brain with to rebuild trust? Are you ‘militantly on your own side’?

Further reading

Barry Pearman

Photo by David Boca on Unsplash

I See You Need a Witness

I See You Need a Witness

December 17, 2020

We all have a story to tell but who is giving witness to it. A witness can help us change our plot, the next event in the storyline. 

I could see them.

I was looking at my Google Analytics for Turning the Page. It’s a kind of measuring tool full of statistics of how many people come to the website and what they are looking at.

This was in real-time. As I was looking at the dashboard they were looking at the website.

I didn’t know who they were or anything about them. Nothing other than that they had come to a particular page. The page was I’ve had Enough, Take my Life God, I Want to die

The route they had taken to get there was most likely one of writing a prayer. The prayer was short. It was ‘God, I want to die .’ A prayer typed into Google.

Turning the Page is ranked on Google on Page One for those terms. 

So here I am, knowing someone is on my website looking for help, in pain, and being anonymous. I am a witness to a struggle by someone somewhere.

I wanted to touch them somehow so they would know they were not alone.

Anonymous means a person unknown.

The person reading the blog post was anonymous, unknown by me, and being un-known in their struggle. 

I could imagine the situation. They were in emotional pain. There was a struggle, and all they wanted was to have the pain end. Perhaps, they hoped, God would take them, and then the pain would end. 

When you’re in a dark hole, the darkness can feel like it’s drowning you. 

You type a few words into Google and hope for help. An algorithm spits out some signposts. 

We don’t want others to know, and so we remain unknown – anonymous -without name.

I witness you

I remember years ago someone writing me letters. Handwritten, they were pages and pages of expression. Much of it was quite eligible and difficult to follow. 

It was something of the story of their life that they wanted me to be a witness to it. Every now and then, I would write back and ask a few questions. 

It was a release for them to get stuff out of their brain and onto some paper. To have someone be a witness. 

They wanted someone to know, to know them, to be known. To not be alone. 

I think something began to open in them.

That their story was real but only part of who they were.

There was more to them than the story they had been telling themselves. In the writing of the story, they were able to let go of some of the pain because the story had now been heard. It had been witnessed.

I see you, and I’m not afraid.

One of the most beautiful qualities of Jesus was that he saw into people’s lives and wasn’t afraid of entering a dark hole. 

Jesus walked with those on the outside. The broken and bruised, the racially and religiously prejudiced. The rejected ones. Those who were considered of no value – the anonymous people.

I believe Jesus would say, ‘I see you, and I’m not afraid.’

The apostle Paul asks a question. 

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Romans 8:35

Here is another empowering question. 

Is your story, pain, past, and failures going to be too big for Jesus to handle?  

When we anonymize ourselves, choosing to remain unknown, we fear rejection.  That we will be shunned, that something will come between ourselves and others. That the witness will walk away. 

To witness the plot of the story.

As we listen and give witness to a story, we see a plot emerge. How various events have shaped the story. There has been a sequence, and each event has affected the next one.

Dan Allender writes this. 

To understand our story, we need to know our tragedies, and as we learn them, we will catch a glimpse of how we currently manage tension

Repetitive patterns have become themes in our lives over time, themes that impose structure on us even when a surface evaluation would tell us that these themes are nothing more than personal preference or desire.

We are not wholly our own, nor are we exclusively the result of what has happened to us.

No wonder reading the plot of our lives is so difficult. Yet it is in the plot where we will find meaning. It also is the only part of our story we can rewrite if the trajectory of our life is not as we desire.

I can’t change my tragedies, nor can I really eliminate (fully) the characters in my story, but I can write a new plot.

To do so requires re-engaging the tragedies of my life with new patterns, thereby developing new or additional themes that mark who I am both as a coauthor of my life and an editor of my future.

Doing this marks me as a character in a larger story, a player who furthers the plot development while living in the real world of tension and tragedy.

To know our plot is the first step in changing it.
Dan Allender. To Be Told: Know Your Story, Shape Your Future

So many wonderful insights in this passage. 

When we give witness, we join in on the knowing of the plot. What a privilege. 

Quotes to consider

  • Writing is always a form of translation. We take what is in us and bring it up from our heart through our mind to the page. Dan Allender
  • Those who do not turn to face their pain are prone to impose it. Terrence Real
  • At some subterranean level of the heart, what we all want is for another human to say, I see you. Rob Bell
  • Just a castaway, an island lost at sea, oh.
    Another lonely day, with no one here but me, oh.
    More loneliness than any man could bear.
    Rescue me before I fall into despair, oh.
    I’ll send an S.O.S to the world. I hope that someone gets my Message in a bottle, yeah.
    A year has passed since I wrote my note.
    I should have known this right from the start.
    Only hope can keep me together.
    Love can mend your life.
    Or love can break your heart.
    I hope that someone gets my Message in a bottle, yeah.
    Walked out this morning, I don’t believe what I saw. 
    Hundred billion bottles washed up on the shore.
    Seems I’m not alone at being alone.
    Hundred billion castaways, looking for a home.
    I’m sending out an S.O.S
    Sting – Message in a bottle

Questions to answer

  1. What are the skills required to be a good witness of someone’s story?
  2. Who has witnessed you?
  3. What quote from this post has connected with you?

Further reading

Barry Pearman

Photo by Andrew Measham on Unsplash

Money Falling From The Sky and a Hope Deferred

Money Falling From The Sky and a Hope Deferred

December 10, 2020

When hope is deferred, our heart grows sick, but when we see and know the hope fulfilled in the now, we can build resilience to the struggles of the day. 

People traveled long distances hoping to get some of the money ‘falling from the sky.’ 

A few nights ago, I watched a news item about a publicity marketing stunt that made a seemingly genuine promise and failed to deliver.

A company had promised.

‘New Zealand’s first mass cash drop.’

‘We’re dropping $105,891.40 [$74,558.13 USD] in value from the sky’

‘YES. Actual money will be flying …’

Instead, it was fake money and vouchers for discounts at their online store.

There was anger, violence, and a huge disappointment. Hearts full of hope were sickened. 

Our Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, said

‘I cannot fathom how, at any point, someone would think that was a good idea. Clearly, it was not. It has caused harm, it has caused hurt, and they should apologize.’

You can watch the full news item here.

 

It’s the

  • snake oil salesman promise
  • online marketer promising whatever you want will be had with this new …
  • preacher promising prosperity if you give and pray and read your bible every day 
  • sparkly lights of a gambling machine
  • dream of things will be better tomorrow if you…
  • hope deferred

Yeah she’s a promise
In the year of election

Oh sister
I can’t let you go
Like a preacher stealing hearts
At a traveling show
Desire – U2

You reach for the sky to grasp the money, buy the magic lotion,  give the offering, pray louder, longer.

Then, when the promise is not fulfilled, there are the words ‘you don’t have enough faith,’ ‘you have sin in your life,’ or ‘you just need to try harder.’

So you try again and again. 

The heart, that seat of the emotions, becomes cynical, fatigued, and in a word, ‘sick.’

Hope deferred

There is a verse in the Bible that talks about this.

Hope deferred makes the heart sick,  but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life. Proverbs 13:12

I wonder how much of one’s sadness, depression, angst is the sickness of having hope deferred over and over again. A ‘putting off’ of the sense of being fulfilled to another day.

Emotions get built up only to be disappointed yet again. So a happy face is put on, and off we go again.

Slowly and surely, the heart gets fatigued about life. We give up the dreams of a better tomorrow and become highly cynical about anything presented as a ‘tree of life.’  

Protesters march in frustration of broken promises. Protest songs become the mantra of a sickened heart. 

We defer to another time that feeling of a ‘hope fulfilled.’ 

A Desire Fulfilled

A young woman gets married. (desire fulfilled) She has two sons (desire fulfilled). Her husband dies (grief, loss, but she still has sons to care for her)

The two sons get married (desire fulfilled). 

Both sons die (hope takes a huge knock). All that is left is herself and two daughters-in-law. 

One of the daughter’s in-laws leaves—the other stays. 

This is the story of a woman called Naomi. Hopes built up then dashed. 

A loyal commitment is made by one of her daughters-in-law, Ruth, to stay with Naomi and help her. To live in the now of whatever befalls them both. 

“Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried.” Ruth 1:16, 17

She and Ruth return to Bethlehem, Naomi’s hometown, to begin again. 

So the two women went on until they came to Bethlehem. When they arrived in Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them, and the women exclaimed, “Can this be Naomi?”

“Don’t call me Naomi,[pleasant],” she told them. “Call me Mara,[bitter] because the Almighty has made my life very bitter.  I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.” Ruth 1:20,21

Naomi was bitter, angry, and was holding up a protest sign angry at God. Hope was gone; anger was in residence. There was no tree of life being fulfilled in her. 

Skip a few years ahead in the story, and we find Ruth married and passing over a young baby to Naomi to hold.

This baby will be part of the lineage, family tree, of another baby, Jesus, that will save the world. A desire fulfilled. Out of the providence of what was in her ‘now,’ something good and delightful emerged.

In that moment of protest

I think we all have moments when we think that life is not fair. Possibly that God has not come through with the promises of blessing, abundance, ‘tree of life.’ 

We shake our fist at God. We shift from being pleasant (Naomi) to bitter (Mara), and in focusing on the real pain that we are experiencing turns us away from the Ruth (friendship) of today. 

The meaning of the name Ruth is friendship

Isn’t that beautiful. In that time of heart sickness, there was a friendship. 

Now for many of us, we might experience a great deal of loss and have no “Ruth’ type people around us. Friends might well depart or avoid.

But there is something bigger going on. There is an invite to live in the now of what I do have. 

Please, don’t say ‘Count your blessings’

I want to throw something at people who tell me to

  • count your blessings
  • be thankful for what you do have
  • be more grateful
  • list out all the things you do have going right

When people say this, I feel that I have failed again. I am ungrateful. That it’s my fault.  

I have been ‘FASSed’ – Fixed, Advised, Saved, Set straight instead of being known. 

This is an avoidance strategy used by them not to enter the reality of another’s real pain.

They don’t want to be a Ruth (friend) to your Mara (bitter) pain. They don’t want to ‘go where you will go.’ They would rather stand at a distance and give you their supposedly wise advice and counsel.

I think Naomi would have felt let down, yet again. 

The compassionate friendship of the now

Instead, there is a friend in the living of the now. It’s the heart seeing the smallest of hopes for what can be seen in this day, this moment.

It’s noticing the provision of a blessing in this moment. 

As I write this, it is early in the morning. It has rained overnight, and all the trees and grasses have had a good wash. Birdlife is singing, and the land feels refreshed. 

I watch the light bounce and sparkle out of a drop of rain on a leaf. I sip my coffee, and I savor the tones and aromas. I watch a small bird hop into our kitchen and steal away a small dog biscuit. The small yappy dog is sleeping, blissfully unaware of this crime. 

In one sense, I am ‘counting my blessings,’ but in a deeper, more meaningful way, I am entering into the blessings of this present moment.  Counting implies logic-based reasoning. If I have this number of blessings, then life can’t be that bad. 

This mindful meditative approach into the friendship ‘Ruth’s’ of the moment goes way deeper. It invites an awareness, a shift in focus to the now.

The widows’ mite

When we shift focus away from bigger hopes to the smaller hopes fulfilled in the now, our life is turned upside down. We enter Jesus’ world of widows mites. 

Sitting across from the offering box, he [Jesus] was observing how the crowd tossed money in for the collection. Many of the rich were making large contributions.

One poor widow came up and put in two small coins—a measly two cents.

Jesus called his disciples over and said, “The truth is that this poor widow gave more to the collection than all the others put together. All the others gave what they’ll never miss; she gave extravagantly what she couldn’t afford—she gave her all.” Mark 12:41-44

In our world, we wooed to focus on the big hopes fulfilled. The five-year plan. Goals of this and that. Building a kingdom and a glory of our own making. 

Jesus points us to the heart and love of a widow giving a few small copper coins. It’s in the hope of the small. 

I have a dream, a hope, a desire for my future, but it’s in the here and now that I find the tree of life-giving its fruit to me. I watch for the Ruth and the copper coins of today. 

Don’t defer your happiness for another time. See it and enter into that which is right in front of you today.  

Perhaps, one day in the future, you will find yourself holding an awareness that something truly beautiful has happened.

The women said to Naomi: “Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a guardian-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.”

Then Naomi took the child in her arms and cared for him. The women living there said, “Naomi has a son!” And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David. Ruth 4:14-17

A hope fulfilled, but not in the way she had believed in. 

Quotes to consider

  • True spirituality is not about running away from your desires it’s about going into the heart of them. Rob Bell
  • Desires shape not simply what we get but much more importantly,  who and what we become.  They shape our very being.  David Benner
  • Despair is a spiritual condition. Despair is when you fall under the belief and conviction that tomorrow will simply be a repeat of today. Rob Bell 

  • Boredom, cynicism, and despair are spiritual diseases because they disconnect us from the most primal truth about ourselves – that we are here. Rob Bell

  • A good journey begins with knowing where we are and being willing to go somewhere else. Richard Rohr
  • What’s the most important minute in life? I think it’s the next one. There is nothing we can do about the past, and we have limited influence over the hours and days to come. But the next minute—minute after minute after minute—is always full of possibility. Rick Hanson

  • The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still, there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Questions to answer

  1. Where have you experienced a deferring of hope?
  2. What is a blessing of the now you can friendship with?
  3. Are you protesting against something? What is the invite Jesus is giving you?

Further reading

 

 

 

Barry Pearman

Photo by 丁亦然 on Unsplash

How to Cast Your Cares on a Clydesdale God

How to Cast Your Cares on a Clydesdale God

December 3, 2020

We can all carry too many worries, anxieties, and cares, but when we learn how to cast, we can find a new sense of wholeness, peace, and shalom.

‘That is a lot you are carrying,’ I said as they paused and took a breath.

So many worries, thoughts, and distractions going around in their head. It was, as someone described it, a monkey mind. Clattering noisy monkeys vying for your attention in the cage of your brain.

I had given them room to voice the noise, and only a little had slipped out.

For many of us, we have become so used to the noise of worry that we think it’s normal.

When someone asks how we are, we would never consider sharing something of the monkey chatter.  It’s just there, in the background, part of the ambient background noise we live in.

But all that noise can wear us down. A kind of fatigue sets in, and worry has its well-worn path to depression.

If you are depressed you are living in the past.
If you are anxious you are living in the future.
If you are at peace you are living in the present. Lao Tzu

The Wholeness of Shalom

Years ago, I listened to a talk by Tom Sine about Shalom, the Hebrew word for peace.

Shalom is not just an ending of hostilities but more so a coming together to a place of wholeness.

A ‘completeness’ of self where there are no fractures or splinters of distraction.

Shalom refers to a sense of harmony, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, welfare, and tranquility.

Many of us live far away from this place of wholeness. Peace is a lovely idea, but it seems like a distant dream for another time.

We get tastes of shalom every now and then, but they are fleeting, and we are back into the pendulum swing of anxiety and depression.

The fractured life of the anxious

It’s interesting to dig into the meaning of the word anxiety in biblical greek.

The word ‘merimna’ is used.

mérimna – a part, separated from the whole; (figuratively) worry (anxiety), dividing and fracturing a person’s being into parts.

We have the picture of one that has a distracted life—so many parts to them.

The image of one of those entertainers with multiple spinning plates on long poles comes to mind. We are jumping from pole to pole to keep everything moving and not have a plate wobble, tilt, and fall to the floor.

We try and control. We run from this anxious thought to the next.

The call to cast

Recently I was watching a young lady ride a horse. She and the horse were one. There was a wholeness.

Before the ride, she had got her saddle and, with a fluidity of motion, had cast it up and onto the waiting horse. She had done this many times.

She knew the weight of the saddle and the need to have a rhythm to her movement. Being quite short, compared to her horse’s height, it took effort and focus for her to cast her load easily.

In one of the passages in the Bible about anxiety and worry, we find Peter, a close friend of Jesus, calling us to cast.

 Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7

That same word ‘cast’ (epiriptó – greek) is also found in the story of when the followers of Jesus cast their cloaks onto the back of a donkey, so Jesus had a comfortable ride.

They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt, and put Jesus on it. Luke 19:35

The object of one’s care.

What is it like to be cared for? To have someone show genuine unconditional love towards you.

This care might be found in a few simple words such as ‘How are you?’ but genuine care goes deeper into a sense of letting you cast some of the weightiness of your life onto their shoulders for at least a moment.

To be the object of one’s love and care is something nearing wholeness or shalom. It means that you are not alone with your monkey mind.

How remarkable is it that we are the ‘object of one’s care’ when we consider God?

‘For he cares about you’ is not simply a nice warm fuzzy devotional idea. It is an active, passionate fact.

There is a desire in the heart of God for you to come close and to cast the fractured reality of your life upon their back.

Learning the rhythm of the cast

As I watched that young lady cast her saddle up on the horse’s back, I knew that she had done this many times.

Probably as a young rider, she would have had a coach show her how to prepare the horse, where to hold the saddle, where to place her feet, and how to swing. It came naturally to her body now. She could probably do it blindfolded.

There is a rhythm to our ‘casting our cares upon the Lord’.

It’s a spiritual practice of noticing, recording, and casting.

  • Noticing
    What are the anxious paths you are regularly taking? You may not even see them as places of worry because they are so familiar to you. The little things you fret over that keep you away from a sense of wholeness and shalom.
    Check out your ‘Red Dot.’ 
  • Recording
    Write them down in a journal. Getting these worries out of the brain and onto paper is a pragmatic step of ownership and awareness. It’s an isolating of the monkey apart from the noise of the monkeys. This recording can be the first step towards problem-solving.
  • Casting
    We have noticed, and we have recorded. Now, can we cast them?
    Casting involves the asking of God to carry the weight for you. To throw the worries, as such, onto the back of a giant Clydesdale horse that can handle anything coming to them. This is not an avoidance strategy of shifting responsibility. It’s more a partnership with the eternal so that the emotional weightiness of the burden can be carried. This frees you up cognitively to have space and quiet. Perhaps as Clydesdale God carries the weight, new possibilities and solutions open up to your imagination.

This week begin to notice the little noises and worries that seem to snipe at your feet. The nervous worries that seem to drive your life. Notice them and write them down. Then prayerfully cast them onto Clydesdale God because they care for you.

Quotes to consider

  • Wholeness can never be experienced unless we find our place within the larger wholes within which we exist. David Benner
  • Spiritual growth begins with the easily overlooked disciplines of attentiveness and surrender. David Benner
  • We are unfinished creatures– longing, reaching, stretching towards fulfillment.  We express these desires for completion in prayer. Eugene Peterson 
  • Prayer is openness to God in faith. It is allowing the life of God to flow into and through us. This is the faith that we receive as a gift when we turn in openness and trust to God. David Benner
  • Prayer tills the soil of the soul and unearths the clods of stories that lie beneath the surface. Dan Allender

Questions to answer

  1. What are the little anxieties and worries that steal so much from you?
  2. In terms of being open to creative solutions, what would happen in you if you could ‘cast’ the emotional weightiness of your anxieties on a Clydesdale sized God?
  3. List out five anxieties or cares that you have for today. How heavy do they feel?

Further Reading

Barry Pearman

Photo by Kenny Webster on Unsplash

Change Always Asks You to Walk on Water

Change Always Asks You to Walk on Water

November 26, 2020

When there is an invite to change, there is always that question of ‘Can I walk on water?’. But with repeated experiences, we can learn confidence and literally change the way our brain works.

I wanted to say ‘hi’ and introduce myself to her, but the ‘what if’s’ were started to hold me back inside my boat. What if she rejects me, ignores me, dismisses me?

I stepped out of the boat, walked on water, said ‘Hi’ and we have been married now for 34 years.

Walking on water is a brain change moment.

 

We all a little boat of beliefs about how life runs. We have shaped and sculptured our brain to think a certain way, believe certain things, and act in accordance.

But the boat can become cramped. Like an old jacket that once fitted us well, it now feels constricted and tight.

There is something about change that is difficult. There is a leaving behind what was once helpful and useful for that moment and then trying something new.

I am reminded of the story in the Bible of Abraham leaving his family and friends to go to another land. It wasn’t a farewell and see you next Christmas. It was a departure from known into the complete unknown.

Your Boat Their Water

What is your boat? I’m talking about the beliefs you have held and cherished and kept you supposedly safe.

Here are a few

  • If I’m in control, everything will be ok
  • God loves me, but it’s conditional on doing the right thing and following the rules.
  • My opinion has no worth.
  • I am unlovable
  • If it’s going to be then, it’s up to me

One thing I have noticed is that Spirit (Holy) doesn’t believe these things, and because of the nature of love, there is a mission of redemption going on.

It’s like watching a child who early in life decided that walking backward was the best way to get somewhere. But that’s not how it was meant to be.

So a caring parent helps them to learn to walk forwards and then life is so much easier.

Rob Bell writes this.

 

Spirit often exposes the assumptions we’ve been living with that we haven’t been aware of.

 

Spirit is on a mission to draw you to walk forwards.

 

Sometimes we’ve accepted rules and codes and limits without realizing it. And then Spirit blows in and exposes those assumptions, showing us how limited we’ve been, what we haven’t seen. We see what we don’t have to accept, how we can make new rules.

 

Spirit often reveals the ways in which we have ever so subtly submitted to the belief that this is just how it is.

 

Spirit refuses to accept that this is just how it is, because spirit is inherently creative. Rob Bell Everything is spiritual

 

 

But then there is the water. The unknown, the ‘what if’s’, the instability of ‘rocking the boat’, the fear of drowning in whatever is under the surface.

The call to walk on water

The story of Jesus’ friend Peter walking on water is familiar to many of us. It holds so many wonderful images that pull at the imagination.

As soon as the meal was finished, he insisted that the disciples get in the boat and go on ahead to the other side while he dismissed the people. With the crowd dispersed, he climbed the mountain so he could be by himself and pray. He stayed there alone, late into the night.

Meanwhile, the boat was far out to sea when the wind came up against them, and they were battered by the waves. At about four o’clock in the morning, Jesus came toward them walking on the water. They were scared out of their wits. “A ghost!” they said, crying out in terror.

But Jesus was quick to comfort them. “Courage, it’s me. Don’t be afraid.”

Peter, suddenly bold, said, “Master, if it’s really you, call me to come to you on the water.”

He said, “Come ahead.”

Jumping out of the boat, Peter walked on the water to Jesus. But when he looked down at the waves churning beneath his feet, he lost his nerve and started to sink. He cried, “Master, save me!”

Jesus didn’t hesitate. He reached down and grabbed his hand. Then he said, “Faint-heart, what got into you?”

The two of them climbed into the boat, and the wind died down. The disciples in the boat, having watched the whole thing, worshiped Jesus, saying, “This is it! You are God’s Son for sure!” Matthew 14:22-33

What was it that enticed Peter to be so bold and reckless to step out of the boat? I think it was a desire to be with Jesus. That ‘withness,’ that close physical contact, that delight in being with the Christ.

There was an allurement that maybe only a few of the disciples truly smelt. 

Fill my senses with your allure

Into the desert we plunge.

One of my favorite biblical passages talks about God alluring us into the desert.

“Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her. Hosea 2:14

Have you ever thought of God as a romantic lover? One that is powerfully and mysteriously attractive or fascinating. A tender, unconditional, overflowing love.

I look out of my boat of tightly held beliefs, fears, ‘what if’s’, and there is the allurement of a God that walks on waves.

Come Jesus says. Focus on me. Focus on the author of truth

I want to walk on water

In little ways, we can train our brain with ‘toes on the water’ experiences.

  • Can I dare to believe that I have value?
  • Can I trust my intuition?
  • Can I let go of some of the control I have exerted over others?

It all starts by training the mind to rest or dwell on truth.

The brain will take its neural shaping from what you have given it to mould itself upon.

The brain takes its shape from what 
the mind rests upon. Rick Hanson

I envision my brain, that physical structure between my ears, being like clay. Soft, pliable and plastic. I place it on top of some pattern. Perhaps the shape of a cross, or maybe an open and empty tomb, and then the brain molding itself over and around it.

The brain’s neural networks take on the very shape and nature of what it has been resting and dwelling on. It leaves its mark.

My thinking compass, a daily discipline and exercise, slowly and surely rewires the thinking.

Try it. Perhaps creating your very own thinking compass might be the first toe on the water experience.

As the wonderful title of a John Ortberg book says ‘If you want to walk on water you have to get out of the boat’.

Then, after many repeated daily readings of your thinking compass you might begin to notice that things have changed. You are seeing things differently. The boat is there but you have left it without even knowing it.

You’re walking on water and you might just begin to dance.

Quotes to consider

  • Like faded paintings on the wall that one never sees, because they’ve always been there, so are the assumptions that govern our lives. D. Riddell
  • Assumptions are what make the world go round, but they can also create hell-on-earth, until they are exposed and carefully examined. D. Riddell
  • The most effective way to dissolve self-doubt over the long term is to pick a phrase that resonates with you and repeat it many times throughout the day. Lauren Sapala
  • The decision to grow always involves a choice between risk and comfort. This means that to be a follower of Jesus you must renounce comfort as the ultimate value of your life. John Ortberg  If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat
  • The key to growing any psychological resource, including compassion, is to have repeated experiences of it that get turned into lasting changes in neural structure or function. Rick Hanson.  Resilient

Questions to answer

  1. Where is Spirit nudging you to step out of the boat?
  2. What is a little phrase that you set on auto-repeat for your brain to dwell on? Could it be ‘I am loved’?
  3. What would it be like to see, feel, taste, and become overwhelmingly intoxicated with the allurement of Christ? Would you seemingly forget about the water and start walking? 

Further reading

 

 

 

 

Barry Pearman

Photo by Yasmina H on Unsplash

Barry Pearman

Barry is a writer, coach, and course creator that has a passion for Mental Health and Spiritual Formation.

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Three Words to Build a Bridge Instead of a Wall into the Secret Garden.

Three Words to Build a Bridge Instead of a Wall into the Secret Garden.

November 19, 2020

We all have a secret garden. A place we don’t want others to go near, but with three little words, we can build a bridge and not a wall.

I had been having a conversation with someone, and then suddenly, I felt the protection of a wall.  The conversation changed, there was a ‘downplaying’ of the issue we talked about, and a new topic was introduced.

I could sense a wall protecting something, a tender topic, something they weren’t confident in exploring with me, yet if we were to grow in a relationship, we needed to be willing to build bridges and not walls.

Let’s build bridges, not walls.” Martin Luther King Jr.

Three simple words build bridges and not walls.  Tell me more.

A Bridge or a Wall 

I remember a man coming to me once for some advice about his teenage daughter. She had become a bit rebellious, and he wanted to straighten her.

I asked him to tell me more. He explained the situation further, and I got to understand the crisis that had happened.

The invite for him was to either make a bridge or build a wall.

His initial response was to come down hard and strong with his rules and opinions. We talked about what would be the most likely outcome of this approach, and he decided that she would most likely build a wall. A structure that would inhibit a deeper relationship and bonding between his daughter.

The other option was to build a bridge. A means by which he could enter her world, get to know what was going on.

Hopefully, through his being a model of good relationship skills, she might want to enter his world and understand his fears, but that is never a promise.

It would take longer, require patience, and learning to be quiet and to listen.

So we talked about some questions that he could gently ask her.

The ‘Tell me more’ invites.

He could not express his opinion (No F.A.S.S. – no fixing, advising, saving, or setting one straight). He was to probe into the problem gently.

Over time and with many conversations, he and his daughter built a stronger relationship. Each of them had different views on all sorts of topics, but there was growing mutual respect.

Secret Garden

One of my favorite Bruce Springsteen songs is Secret Garden.

He tells the story of wanting to enter the deepest parts of a woman’s life. It’s a secret garden, a place she hides and doesn’t let anyone in.

She’ll let you in her heart.
If you got a hammer and a vise
But into her secret garden, don’t think twice.

She’ll lead you down a path.
There’ll be tenderness in the air.
She’ll let you come just far enough.
So you know she’s really there.

She’ll look at you and smile.
And her eyes will say
She’s got a secret garden.
Where everything you want
Where everything you need
Will always stay
A million miles away.
Bruce Springsteen

We all have secret gardens. Walls are built to keep ourselves safe.

We have been hurt, so self protectively, we build protection around ourselves.

But what walls do is that they hide the best of what the garden has to provide to the world.

The most precious rose is kept locked away, and no one can delight in its beauty and purpose.

I’ve snuck into a few people’s secret gardens. Seen the roses, smelt the fragrance, and helped some walls be taken down and rusty gates swing a little wider so others may be blessed by the beauty within.

Walls are needed

To be honest, some people will not treat the tenderness of your heart with the love and respect it needs and deserves. You’ve been there, done that, got the tee-shirt and the pain.

So you’ve built a wall, but you still want to be known. There is a flower garden in your soul that needs tender care and love.

You don’t want a mechanic, an engineer, or an accountant. You want a gardener to tend the soil, prune the vines and smell the roses.

True gardeners are hard to find.

It’s interesting to note that the first person to see Jesus after his resurrection was Mary, who thought he was the cemetery’s gardener. John 20:15 Perhaps he was. Maybe he was the gardener of dead souls.

Tell me more.

I want to know more. I want to understand.

Behind the problems we have are often secret gardens. We present with this issue, but really the deepest problem is hidden away behind walls and doors.

A king is one who searches things out.

It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out. Proverbs 25:2

It might come in the form of these little questions and statements.

    • I want to know a little bit more.
    • Can you please explain?
    • I didn’t quite understand
    • Tell me more

A king builds bridges over the walls, peeks through the gates, looks at the fears and assumptions we have made, and explores the beauty within.

Don’t let your secret walled garden be lost to the world. We need the beauty and purpose you have within.

Quotes to consider

  • When you speak to me about your deepest questions, you do not want to be fixed or saved: you want to be seen and heard, to have your truth acknowledged and honored. Parker J. Palmer
  • Sensitive listeners respond to comments with words that convey an interest in hearing more, sentences that open the door to information.  Words that open doors transmit two messages: 1.‘I am interested in whatever you have to say.’ 2.’I will accept you regardless of what you say.'” Larry Crabb
  • A brother has not given up all things if he holds onto the purse of his own opinions. St. Francis of Assisi
  • When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. Henri J.M. Nouwen
  •  Learn to respond to others with honest, open questions instead of counsel or corrections. With such questions, we help “hear each other into deeper speech.” Parker J. Palmer.

Questions to answer

  1. What is in your secret garden?
  2. What are some gently curious questions that you could ask someone?
  3. Who has gently explored your secret garden?

Further reading

Barry Pearman

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

I Arise Today and Bind around my Brain

I Arise Today and Bind around my Brain

November 12, 2020

We often have the same negative thoughts going around and around in our brains, but we can change them when we arise and bind the brain with truth.

I always marvel at those men and women who lift heavyweights. It takes time, effort, and wisdom. Many of them you will see wrap a binding around their wrists or their waist. Boxers wrap their hands.

Perhaps you have seen other athletes wrap some support around their legs.

All to give some extra support to some weaker and perhaps fragile are of the body. Perhaps it has been previously injured and needs some extra support.

The verb bind means to tie, secure,
or fasten as with string or rope. 

I don’t want to wake up in the morning.

One of my most-read posts is the post ‘She prayed to God that she wouldn’t wake up in the morning.’ In fact, since writing it in July 2018, it has been read over 1600 times, and over 83% of those reads have come through a google search.

There are many that pray not to wake up in the morning.

Life at times can feel too heavy, too hard, and you want it all to end.

The thought of having to lift that heavyweight of life, yet again the next morning, creates feelings of despair and hopelessness. In that place of emotional pain, it all feels too much.

Your feelings feed your thoughts, and you find yourself in a downward spiral—a vicious spiral sinking you into the mud of hopelessness.

I wonder about the words, phrases, mottos, and sentences of thoughts that are repeatedly said over and over again. Binding them to the brain.

Words have power. Sentences have meaning. Paragraphs shape our beliefs. Life happens one thought at a time by default or design.

Bind them on your heart

In the Jewish faith, the men wear a phylactery called a Tefillin,, a small leather box containing Hebrew texts at morning prayer as a reminder to keep the law.

They, in a very literal sense, are binding scripture to themselves.

Then there are these verses that talk about the binding of scripture.

You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. Deuteronomy 11:18

Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you;
bind them around your neck;
write them on the tablet of your heart. Proverbs 3:3

My son, keep your father’s commandment,
and forsake not your mother’s teaching.
Bind them on your heart always;
tie them around your neck.
When you walk, they will lead you;
when you lie down, they will watch over you;
and when you awake, they will talk with you. Proverbs 6:20-22

This seems to be an active process. Not passive.

I arise, and I bind

Somewhere in the years between 390 and 461 A.D., a man by the name of Patrick writes a prayer. It’s a prayer about focusing your thoughts.

In the oldest translations from ancient Irish, we have the lines ‘I bind myself’ and then with later translations, we have ‘I arise today.’

“I arise today” is generally considered a better translation of the first line than “I bind unto myself today.” according to the hymnology archive. 

I think both versions have merit.

I pray St. Patricks prayer every morning as part of my thinking compass.

I bind unto myself to-day
The strong name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same.
The Three in One and One in Three.

I bind this day to me for ever,
⁠By power of faith, Christ’s Incarnation;
His baptism in Jordan river;
⁠His death on cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spiced tomb;
⁠His riding up the heavenly way;
His coming at the day of doom;
⁠I bind unto myself to-day.

I bind unto myself the power
⁠Of the great love of Cherubim;
The sweet ‘Well done’ in judgment hour;
⁠The service of the Seraphim,
Confessors’ faith. Apostles’ word,
⁠The Patriarchs’ prayers, the Prophets’ scrolls,
All good deeds done unto the Lord,
⁠And purity of virgin souls.

I bind unto myself to-day
⁠The virtues of the star-lit heaven.
The glorious sun’s life-giving ray,
⁠The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
⁠The whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea
⁠Around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself to-day
⁠The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch. His might to stay,
⁠His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
⁠His hand to guide. His shield to ward;
The Word of God to give me speech,
⁠His heavenly host to be my guard.

Against the demon snares of sin,
⁠The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
⁠The hostile men that mar my course;
Or few or many, far or nigh.
⁠In every place, and in all hours,
Against their fierce hostility,
⁠I bind to me these holy powers.

Against all Satan’s spells and wiles,
⁠Against false words of heresy,
Against the knowledge that defiles,
⁠Against the heart’s idolatry,
Against the wizard’s evil craft,
⁠Against the death-wound and the burning,
The choking wave, the poisoned shaft,
⁠Protect me, Christ, till Thy returning.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
⁠Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
⁠Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
⁠Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
⁠Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name,
⁠The strong Name of the Trinity;
By invocation of the same,
⁠The Three in One, and One in Three.
Of Whom all nature hath creation;
⁠Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation
⁠Salvation is of Christ the Lord.
The Writings of Saint Patrick, the Apostle of Ireland/Version of Mrs. Alexander

What do you bind around your brain? 

What are the bindings that you arise with?

What are the support structures that you lace around your brain, giving it protection and shape?

Are there some bindings that are not so helpful? Repetitive self-talk that negates you.

Wouldnt it be better to build and bind truth and hope around your neural structures?

It’s not going to happen without some intent and purpose—a changing of habits.

Building a thinking compass

I use a thinking compass. A little tool that you can check back on at regular times to make sure you’re heading in the right direction.

At its most basic, a thinking compass is a little notebook of written insights, prayers, and quotes that speak truth to you.

You read these every day so that you keep going on the right track.

I keep my compass in my phone. I have a list that I read every morning and often at night before going to sleep. I am training my brain.

Here are some of the little sentences that I bind around my brain.

    • What I focus on gets me. Focus on the negatives/ challenges will always take me down. Focus on the positive/good things will always give me hope.
    • Since every destination starts as a thought, I focus on where I want to go.
    • I design my life and build my future thought by thought.
    • The subconscious can be reprogrammed through cognitive reassessments.
    • No matter how strong, a feeling of hopelessness is an echo and perception from the past and is not how things really are.
    • The brain takes its shape from what the mind rests upon. I choose to rest it upon truth.
    • When I allow achievements to determine my mood, I will always be like a puppet on a string.
    • When my brain is full of what I’m not achieving, I will miss what I am achieving.
    • Life happens one thought at a time by default or design.

These are little truth nuggets that I need to remind myself of. There is a resistance to learning these new thoughts. The brain likes to keep us safe and in familiar territory, so it will take time for a new truth to replace the old.

Quotes to consider

  • You are the creator of your thoughts, and it’s your thoughts that can create the future that you want. It really is in your control. Dr. Shannon Irvine
  • If it’s been learned, it can always be unlearned. e.g., ways of coping, personal habits, survival kits, and nasty addictions. D. Riddell
  • The brain takes its shape from what the mind rests upon. Rick Hanson
  • Despair is a spiritual condition. Despair is when you fall under the belief and conviction that tomorrow will simply be a repeat of today. Rob Bell

Questions to answer

  1. What are some truths that you need to train your brain in?
  2. If you were able to tell your younger self something, what would it be?
  3. Is there a scripture that you need to train your brain in?

Further reading

 

 

Barry Pearman

Photo by Jannis Lucas on Unsplash

Building a New Confidence from the Ash

Building a New Confidence from the Ash

November 5, 2020

There was no self-confidence. It was gone like vapour from ash. But something reignited when we looked at the pebbles and not the mountain.

It was like I was looking at an empty shell. They were there in the room with me but there was very little confidence within them to do anything at all.

It had gone. Any self-belief they had seemed to have been sucked right out of them.

How did this happen? Well, they had been hammered on.

What does that mean?

Well, it was like someone had come, with a large hammer and pounded against the very fabric of who they were. The hammer was words.

‘You’re wrong, that’s not right, why are you doing that, your stupid’

It was loud, persistent, and kept on coming much like a dripping tap.

Eventually, that constant dripping wore an indentation out of the soft-hearted place of their soul.

The indentation became a hole. The hole became a chasm. The chasm became a vacuumous empty shell.

Being a shell there was a fragility and the possibility of it being completely crushed.

It was soul abuse.

Sitting in the ashes

I have found that there is much healing and hope to be found in simply being with the other. What this does is that it establishes the person as having significance.

They matter. Not for what they do but for who they are.

When two people relate to each other authentically and humanly,
God is the electricity that surges between them. Martin Buber

One of the familiar images we have in the Bible is that of broken people sitting in ashes. Job 2:8; Esther 4:1; Jonah 3:5–7.

We find people, much like ourselves, covering themselves with ashes at times of grief, loss, and brokenness.

What’s leftover is mere ash.

As I write this I am looking at a fireplace. The fire Has long been extinguished and all that is left is the remnants of what was. The heat has gone, the bulk of wood has been consumed, and now only fragments of what was being left behind.

I sit with the ashes of what was and wait to see what comes forth.

Strawberries from ashes 

Last night I had my very first spring strawberries for dessert. I went out into the garden to the strawberry bed, lifted up the bird net, and plucked six ripe large berries.

A few months earlier I had taken ashes from the fire and spread them around the strawberries.

You see there is something quite useful in wood ash. It’s called Potassium (K). In fact, wood ash contains 10% potassium which is very high for any natural substance that is used as a fertilizer.

Ash is also full of trace elements.

Potassium is vitally important for reproduction – flowering, setting seeds, fruiting.

Ash contains the potency of new life.

Please stop talking at me

I’ve sat in the ashes where there is burnout, depression, anxiety, confusion, loss. Confidence gone like a vapoury smoke.

People suggest things to do. They make recommendations, set out plans and prescribe what needs to happen. At times you just want to put them out of the room – your mental health room.

But no one dares to sit in the ashes with them. No one is sharing breathe over the embers hoping something will reignite.

No one is holding them in an embrace of love.

Reigniting the soul

I like to look and listen for the smallest of the small and in the pile of ashes, there is a problem.

How do we reignite the soul?

There is a felt emotion of being crushed under a mountain.

I so want to see the breath come back into the dry bones of this fellow traveler.

This person who can’t get out of bed, brush their teeth, or cook a simple meal.

How do I empower the soul to move?

I look at the pebbles under the mountain.

The pebble

We all have problems. They can feel like mountains.

It’s important to understand that it is a feeling. For one person that mountain will seem inconsequential, a mere speck, but for the one in ashes, it may feel like a  towering dark citadel of doom.

They look at it and they are crushed. Any confidence vanishes.

Feelings only report what is familiar.

But under every mountain is a pebble that can be shifted. It could even be the size of a mustard seed.

We find that pebble and empower the moving.

Building a new confidence

I simply love seeing someone list out their problems in a very pragmatic way without any emotional attachment.

First, we see the mountains. The obvious problems. Powerful, intimidating, and confidence-sapping.

Then we break those mountains down a bit and discover other problems. Not quite so daunting but they are still there.

Under those medium-sized ‘problem’ rocks will be smaller and smaller rocks until we find a pebble.

To this pebble, we begin problem-solving and looking for a highly achievable solution. We create a S.T.A.N. plan and move forward.

It’s here that a new confidence can grow from. Empowering those little steps.

It could be the little steps needed to brush your teeth once a day. To get out of bed. To make a simple meal.

Building a new confidence is looking for little achievements. Praising, celebrating, and affirming their worth.

In the brain, new pathways are forming. There is healing and repair.

Out of the ash a seed germinates, puts down roots, and begins to flourish through the ash of the past.

There is still a fragility to the new emerging confidence. So we need others to continue to praise and affirm any new steps made.

Remember that mountains are shifted one stone at a time. Focus on the pebble in front of you, not the mountain.

Quotes to consider

  • I arise today
    Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
    Through a belief in the Threeness,
    Through confession of the Oneness
    Of the Creator of creation. Prayer of St. Patrick
  • When I believe my feelings, and those feelings misrepresent reality, I am headed for a self-referential pit that will get deeper and darker as I dig myself into my home-made delusion. David Riddell
  • Your feelings are not a reliable guide to what you should and shouldn’t do. They merely reflect sub-conscious beliefs, which may need to be examined. David Riddell
  • Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity. Pema Chödrön
  • Real encouragement occurs when words are spoken from a heart of love to another’s recognized fear. Larry Crabb

Questions to answer

  1. Have you ever had a time when all confidence seemed to have disappeared? What reignited it?
  2. Why do we rush to problem solve the big mountain problems rather than the pebbles?
  3. What is a pebble problem in your life that if addressed could ignite a new confidence in yourself?

Further Reading

Barry Pearman

Photo by Somia DCosta on Unsplash

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