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)

Better out than in…

Here in the UK, the line from the government is to ‘stay home… save lives’ to minimise the spread of coronavirus, so for those of us who are not key workers, we best keep ‘in not out’.

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It’s opposite to the “better out than in!” line that may accompany noises from our inner depths, yet there is something positive to be found in both directives.

Our responses to the current situation, which has brought so many changes, can be quite revealing.
Something I’ve always struggled with, is ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’.
I’m a natural ‘doer’, so this is a huge opportunity to realise in a deeper way, that self-worth doesn’t depend on what we ‘do’, but on who we ‘are’. Yes, using our unique set of gifts and skills is part of our call as human beings, but what misplaced needs am I looking to be met, when I ‘do’ for others?

Truth is, I have a deep need for significance (don’t we all!) but this is an opportunity for me to drop my endless ‘to do’ list, and discover in a deeper way, that ‘being’ with God, is just as important as ‘doing’.

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Suddenly my empty diary seems like an invitation to let God plan my days – an opportunity to let ‘quiet spaces’ last for as long as God fills them with thoughts to explore.

Further, with open ended time, some stuff that I’ve been avoiding has surfaced from the depths.
The saying ‘better out than in’ can be applied here! So I’m discovering (yet again) that being honest and real with God is liberating.

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Hurt, frustration, guilt, shame, can all be powerful jailers.
But nothing is news to God so bringing it out into the open allows God to sort out with me, all my mixed-up feelings, and I can move on. Something along the lines of:

‘forgive what we have been, help us to amend what we are, and direct what we shall be…’

Rather than viewing our days in isolation as a ‘problem’, may we see them as an ‘opportunity’…

Truth is… Come back and quietly trust in me, then you will be strong and secure (Isaiah 30:15)

If you go down to the woods today…

I’ve just returned from a walk in the woods with my daughter, and she pointed out something I’d never noticed:

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I’ve always thought I was quite observant, but this sign had completely missed my notice despite the fact I’d walked past it countless times! And it’s got me thinking – what other things have I not noticed? Maybe there are other interesting things I haven’t spotted, or more importantly, perhaps I’m not noticing things that need my attention.

This sign on the tree was obviously nailed there years ago, but over time the bark has covered it and now the message – which I presume was some kind of warning – is lost.
My guess is that familiar routines and habits can sometimes blind us to what needs our attention. Also, we learn through our mistakes, but over time lessons can be lost as we slowly slip back into old ways. Our conscience becomes dulled, and like the bark growing over the sign, there are no warnings.

Truth is, I need my conscience to keep me on the right path. When the sign was fully visible, it probably directed walkers to keep to the footpath and not wander off course. I need that reminder daily in my life!

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I believe that God hopes that each one of us will respond to the Spirit’s nudges. Doing this will keep us on the right track, where we will positively discover that we are truly significant and secure in God.
Although I was brought up to fear an angry judgemental god, I now sense that God wants us to keep on track for our own good. We don’t have to do anything for God to delight in us, but if we’re off course, we’ll prevent ourselves from knowing this delight.

So the message nailed to the tree is a reminder to keep on track, by being alert to my conscience. May we all ‘nail it!’

Truth is… Let us put everything out of our lives that keeps us from doing what we should. Let us keep running in the race that God has planned for us. Hebrews 12:1

Beauty or beast…?

Our inner beauty isn’t always obvious to us – our perceived inadequacies can make us feel ugly. We can be very harsh on ourselves, and years of critical self-talk can result in us feeling insignificant, unsuccessful and insecure.

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Truth is, I went for years without questioning my inner critic. The monologue about my inadequacies was unceasing – because I never challenged it.

We can get so attuned to our inner critic that we don’t hear or doubt, what other trusted people – and God – have to say. And so we paint black & white pictures of ourselves that miss the beauty and colour that others see in us!

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A positive way forward can be to focus on ‘opposite action’ where we notice the distorted thought and act otherwise. So ‘I can’t’ becomes ‘I can’ – and it’s not necessarily about adding to a ‘to do’ list!
Just as important, is taking time ‘to be’. Self-care isn’t necessarily selfish – we all need to take time ‘to stop and stare’.

What is this life if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare…    (W H Davies)

‘Being’ and ‘doing’ in ways that challenge distortions will help us to paint a more accurate picture of ourselves.
Not a perfect portrait, but one with colour and detail – and the odd smudge here and there! The truth of the matter is that none of us is perfect, but we’re all significant and secure in God’s sight.

This can be hard to believe, when our perception of ourselves may be distorted by past or present experiences of relationships. Many interactions are based on transactions, and if we feel our worth is dependent on what we do, we can be ‘people pleasers’ and life can be an endless search for approval and acceptance. But God offers us a different experience. If we start believing that God’s love is unconditional and that the Giver delights in us for who we are, we will naturally want to grow into truth.
So let’s believe the truth at the heart of the matter, and start to see a fuller picture.

Truth is… ‘You are precious in my sight, and I love you’ Isaiah 43:4