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)

Core strength…

With significant spinal fractures caused by brittle bones, and at risk of further fractures if I stumble or move awkwardly, it’s been suggested to me that I should get a balance board to improve my core strength.

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                                                       Photo credit: Nurture Collective

Physical core strength is stabilising, giving us good balance and preventing unnecessary falls.
Likewise, our mind and soul benefit from a strong foundation, as stability in our innermost being allows us to withstand the waves of life, rather than being knocked off balance.

Our life experiences shape our inner being. Our past can be enabling, or disabling, or typically a mix.
But whatever our lot, we have a choice. We can put energy into what we can change, or we can exhaust ourselves trying to alter what is beyond our power.

We can’t see our physical core, nor can we see the core of our inner being, but the stronger they are, the further the positive ripples of wellbeing extend.

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So what can we do to increase our soul strength?

As a believer, I find that the more honest I am with God, the stronger I become.
Like everyone, I am inclined to bury uncomfortable thoughts and unsettling fears. But if I recognise them in the presence of God’s liberating light and love, there is healing.
Healing is not about being a passive patient in God’s hands, but rather, a purposeful participant.
It’s about making the changes we need to make, in order to become more aligned with God.
Just as a balance board causes us to adjust our posture and build inner muscle strength, so honesty leads to redemption and restoration, and increases our soul strength.
We will gradually become more balanced, and wobble less.

Wholeness doesn’t mean being without scars. My fractures have healed, but I’m left with deformity, and so I have a choice: to wrap myself in cotton wool, or do everything I can to increase physical core strength and live life to the full.
So, balance board here I come, and as I wobble less and stand as tall as I can, I’ll look to strengthen my soul too…

Truth is… For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:10)

A dog with a bone

While we can learn a lot from dogs, my Assistance Dog Marshall isn’t perfect. He’s a Spaniel, so he will always sniff out anything that he believes to be edible. For example…

Although covid-19 places me in strict isolation, I’m able to take a solitary walk Marshall in a nearby wood. He enjoys his time off-lead, and I’ve always trusted him to return to me when I blow my whistle.dog-whistle-metal-iron-pipe-wallpaper-previewSo last week I gave a blast, with the expectation he would immediately return from the undergrowth he’d disappeared into.
Imperfection number 1: No show. After several more blasts, he emerged with an enormous roasted bone in his mouth, complete with remains for gnawing. He carried his prize possession home, and by our outside bin I commanded him to ‘give’.
Imperfection number 2: He initially refused. He must have sensed the bone was going in the refuse. He didn’t realise that as his guardian, I know best. Delicious as the meaty bone may have seemed to him, I knew it would cause him inner upset.

Marshall’s misdemeanours are a reminder that we can make bad choices, and refuse to give up what we cling to. Truth is, I’ve clung to many things that are less than wholesome.
Like everyone, I have a deep-rooted longing for significance and security. I’ve wanted recognition, or efforts returned, or to be liked, and sometimes I’ve looked in the wrong places for these needs to be met.

I believe that as humans we are more than a body with a mind. We also have a soul, and if we neglect it, all will not be well. Our souls cry out for integration. As St Augustine said:

You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they can find rest in you.

It is within our souls that we discover God has our best interests at heart.
But just as Marshall needed to give me his bone so that he could then receive a more wholesome alternative, so we need to ‘drop’ what we cling to – all those things that give us false and empty nourishment.

Hearing Dogs Appeal Shoot

Photo credit: 2019 Paul Wilkinson Photography (Hearing Dogs for Deaf People)

Truth is… Listen closely to me, and you will eat what is good. You will enjoy the food that satisfies your soul. (Isaiah 55:2)