The problem of pain…

At a tender age I was easily upset by cruelty, so wildlife programmes featuring suffering and a struggle for survival would make me cry.
A few days ago, these feelings resurfaced when I discovered a blue tit had fallen to its death in my backyard. Stunned, I stood and watched the nesting box from where it had fallen and made the shocking discovery that sparrows had invaded the box and ousted its residents.

As a child I wondered how camera crews making nature programmes could just stand inactive in the midst of suffering.

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Truth is, as an adult, I have also wondered how God can watch people struggling and apparently do nothing. I think the answer lies in the word ‘apparently’.

Sometimes we make unwise choices, other times we are unfortunately caught in the slipstream of other people’s destructive decisions, and all this can impact on our emotional wellbeing. Meanwhile our physical health, and the health of the earth, is a complex interaction of the variables of nature and nurture.

I believe that how we react to life, shapes our soul. We have a choice, to become bitter or better. Although we are not controlled by God, God is not unmoved by our folly and waits to be invited into the heart of the matter – in our souls.

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Inviting God in doesn’t mean our circumstances instantly change, but that our characters change and grow.
Soul growth is a slow process and requires the right conditions – honesty, silence, patience, and time.

John Ortberg writes:

“If you ask people who don’t believe in God why they don’t, the number one reason will be suffering.
If you ask people who believe in God when they grew most spiritually, the number one answer will be suffering.”

(Soul Keeping)

The good news is that nothing is news to God, and no situation and no one is beyond redemption.
In our souls we come home to God, so may we avoid being like the sparrows, who intent on feathering their nest with no regard to the blue tits, left a trail of destruction in pursuit of significance and security.

Truth is… Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him (Ephesians 3:17)

Wait and see…

Sometimes there’s more to something than meets the eye. Like the tomato and cucumber plants my daughter gave me in June. We knew it was a little late in the season to be growing on, but ‘nothing ventured nothing gained’, and so they had house room in a sunny position for a few weeks before I moved them outside.

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While the cucumber soon established itself and quickly produced fruit…

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…the tomato plant looked unconvincing. So much so, that in August I nearly consigned it to the compost heap – it had finally come into flower, but the weather seemed to be on the turn and with not much between my garden and a Welsh mountain, I doubted if the fruit would have time to mature before summer’s end. My son however, persuaded me to wait and he was right – we are finally eating tomatoes!

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Sometimes it’s a good choice to wait and see. Truth is, I like things sorted, but life isn’t always black and white. The grey areas in-between can hold possibilities – potential that can go unrealised if we dismiss things too quickly, or at a particularly low moment, or when we feel drained.

Recently I felt like stepping out of an energy sapping situation but realised there were uncertainties that were preventing me from making a clear decision, so I’ve chosen to wait. Waiting isn’t necessarily a passive state. Sometimes there are actions we can take to optimise positive outcomes. A bit like giving the tomato plant a final chance – removing fruitless stems, placing it in good light, and keeping it watered but not water logged.
I believe that if we choose to engage with God, we too will find ourselves in clearer light with our true needs met. It will call us to look honestly at ourselves, and our situations, and make informed, balanced decisions.
Discernment is a process. I don’t believe in a God who waves a magic wand, but in a presence that wills the best all round. What flourishes and what appears to fail, is part of this, so I wait and see…

Truth is… “Watch for the new thing I am going to do…” (Isaiah 43:19)

If the shoes fit

Recently someone was sharing with me, their uncertainty about what to do.

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It had taken this person some time to work out what was making them unsettled, and now they were looking at the different pieces that made up their life and working out what to do next. Was it time to make a sweeping change that would alter their situation in so many ways, or to change different aspects one at a time?
As I listened to their story, it sounded like a positive opportunity was being offered to them, but they were anxious that it might not turn out right.

There are of course, no hard and fast rules, and that’s why we can sometimes feel uncertain.
Life can be a bit like baking a cake. Sometimes the combination of ingredients calls for an ‘all in one method’ where you just tip everything in, give it a good mix, and bake. Other times, the content calls for light handling and a gentle folding in of ingredients, one by one, before cooking and turning out.

However, the person who was talking with me isn’t into baking, so a different analogy was needed. What came to mind was shoes!
It seemed like a box of ‘shoes’ was in front of them. These were exactly the right size, and in a style and colour they liked. So their choice was whether to take them out the box and put them on. Left in the box they wouldn’t be going anywhere, but put on, they could step out…
I was so glad when they later told me they were ‘wearing’ them!

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Throughout life we all need new ‘shoes’. Outgrown shoes can pinch and constrain; worn out shoes are past their best.
Truth is, I’ve sometimes been reluctant to go up a ‘size’, or replace ‘old for new’. But there’s a line in the film Forrest Gump that reminds me to check my ‘shoes’:

“Momma always says there’s an awful lot you could tell about a person by their shoes. Where they’re going. Where they’ve been.”

May we put our best foot forward by getting in the right mindset…

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Truth is… ‘In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make straight your paths’ Proverbs 3:6