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)

Homing instinct…

A few weeks ago, I was very excited. I spotted a pair of sparrows exploring a nesting box in our garden, but my delight turned to disappointment when they appeared to reject the home on offer.
However, they’ve returned and settled! I like to think that having checked out alternatives, a secure and safe place to dwell has been recognised.

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It’s made me think how delighted our Creator must be, when having sought alternatives, we finally recognise our soul’s longing for God and come ‘home’.

Yet so often we ignore or misinterpret the yearnings of our soul.
We feel an emptiness – and so we fill our lives with the brightest and best we can afford (or not).
We sense a gap – and we attempt to plug it with successes.
We feel incomplete – and we look for fulfilment in relationships.
These things may be potentially life enhancing, but when they reach priority status in our lives, they cause us to topple. There’s an irony in the fact that the more we try to pack into our lives, be it possessions, successes or relationships, the emptier we become.

Truth is, I yearn recognition but however many ‘likes’ I may get, my ‘need’ isn’t met.
Of course it isn’t! It is only God, who can meet our true needs.
So how do we encounter God?
Simply, through honesty. If we have the courage to recognise our innermost feelings and thoughts, what is stagnant can be displaced by the life-giving water of God. Our thirst will be quenched, and as we feel more at home with God, we will be become our truer selves.
I am finding that when I allow God to show me the heart of the matter, liberation follows. I am freer from the clutch of predatory forces.

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To connect with God in our souls is to come home, and as I watch the birds flying in and out of the nesting boxes, it reminds me to connect with the homing instinct we all have in our souls. God is within each of us, waiting to offer us life in all its true fullness.

 

Truth is… I choose the God above all gods to shelter me… (Psalm 91:9)

Enough is enough

With autumn approaching, it’s the time of year when people often say, ‘Where did the summer go!’
I know I feel a mix of fulfilment and frustration – I’ve enjoyed those moments when I’ve picked flowers from the garden, but many things I’d hoped to do, haven’t got done.

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I’m left with a ‘to do’ list that’s as long as ever, and truth is, rather than feeling refreshed and restored by the so-called summer break, I’m feeling weary and wonder if I’ll have the reserves to see me through the winter.
But enough is enough!

As a believer, in my right mind, I trust that God is enough. With God’s nudges, and God’s enabling, we are all able to do what truly needs doing. But sometimes our thinking gets clogged up.
Some people are susceptible to hardening of the arteries, but many more live with a condition of the mind that’s been dubbed ‘hardening of the oughteries’!
– Perfectionism or feeling a need for acceptance or approval or admiration, can make us feel we ought to do this or that or the other, and the opportunity for God’s grace to flow freely is restricted.

So when we feel overwhelmed by the apparent demands of life, it’s worth being honest and declaring to God “enough is enough”. For if we then loosen our resentments, disappointments and frustrations, we may well sense God responding: ‘enough is enough – I am more than enough!’

Jesus says he is the ‘bread of life’, and urges his followers to pray for daily bread.

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Bread gives us strength, and Jesus wants us to discover this in more ways than one!
Jesus also shows us what can happen when we give thanks, and look to God rather than ourselves, for sustenance in life. He took five meagre loaves, gave thanks, and then was able to feed a multitude of hungry people.

Maybe if we recognise what we have available to us, and hold an attitude of gratitude, we will discover that in God’s hands, we have more than enough!

Truth is… “My grace is all you need, for my power is greatest when you are weak.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

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)

Surprised by joy!

I was pleasantly surprised the other day, when someone close, described me as ‘joyful’.
Truth is, life doesn’t always feel full of joy. It’s often full of the unexpected, like my partner having unstable health, and various other challenging circumstances (which have prevented blogging recently). So it was lovely to know that despite all this, joy seeps out!
Feelings are not necessarily the same as facts. I may feel overwhelmed at times, but deeper facts tell me a different story. As Mother Teresa said:

“I know God won’t give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish he didn’t trust me so much” 

I find a refreshing humour and hope in this.

So what is joy? I believe it’s what bubbles up from a deep connection with God, and there’s something special when this flows over into other people’s lives – for both the receiver and the giver.

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Joy is different to happiness.
Happiness is a feeling, and feelings are generated by circumstances. They’re changeable, just like the sea. Sometimes the sea of life is calm, and all is sunshine and light.
Other times it’s dark and stormy. We are tossed about, and happiness can be swept overboard before we know it!

Joy though, is deeper. Its source is God, and rises from the depths.
However much positive thinking I do, I cannot make myself truly joyful – deep joy comes when I plunge the depths and am honest with God. It gives me the sense that there is more to life than meets the eye. It gives me a different, lighter perspective, and nudges me onwards and upwards.
It’s there for everyone. We just need to dip our toe in – in all our messiness and hurt and uncertainty. When we allow ourselves to be surrounded by God’s current of love, joy will seep into our inner selves and swell our hearts. It will make a difference to us, and those around us.

There’s a family joke that my epitaph will be ‘She was a maker and a mender’. Spot on, but to be thought of as ‘joyful’, is even better!

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Truth is… “[may] my joy be in you and your joy be made full” John 15:11