One Day

One Day I’d like to live in a house with a garden. I’d like it to have space for a library so that my husband can immerse himself in books and those he has penned can have their own pride of place. I’d like a kitchen with space to create delicious dinners and bake fun treats. I’d like a play room for the children and enough rooms so that each child (hopefully 2 or 3) has their own nest and we still have a spare for guests.

My husband I both have a vision of this house. Our images seem to match and we dream of it fairly frequently. But it’s not just the house itself that we want, it’s the lifestyle and choices it represents and that go alongside it hand in hand in our dream.

We’d like the flexibility of work that allows us to raise our children mostly ourselves, encourage them to love learning and give them opportunities to explore. We’d like to welcome people and for them to enjoy being in the moment, to relax, cast off their burdens and feel blessed by our home, our food and our family. We want to practice hospitality, enjoy the seasons in their most basic and beautiful forms and we want to teach our children to do likewise.

I’m often impatient for this house; for this dream. I catch glimpses of it so often but am never able to connect the dots between our lives now and how we get there. But somehow, I trust we will get there, because it’s not just the house, it’s a God-given desire to create a place which others can also call home. A simple and genuine home free of fear and judgement for our children, friends, family and strangers.

So until then, I must simply learn patience and practice hospitality, enjoying the seasons and creating a warm environment in readiness and preparation for One Day.

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The curse of comparison

Look at your life for a moment. In isolation from every other person’s life, are you happy with yours? If you didn’t know that a colleague had a bigger house, a friend had more children or an acquaintance had a higher paid job, would you be satisfied with your life?

Comparison is ugly. Not only does it make us compare tiny segments of other people’s lives to the entirety of our own lives, it takes our eyes away from what we do have.

If we were truly to compare our lives to others, then we’d have to take their good with their bad. We can’t be jealous of one element of their lives without taking into account everything else that makes up their daily living. They may have something you want but they inevitably will have other things that you’re thankful you don’t have to deal with.

It’s worth remembering that to someone, your grass is greener than theirs. To others looking in, those Instagram photos, job updates or home improvements are exactly what they are aspiring to in that moment. They won’t see the in between, the struggles, disappointments or failures.

It’s the one time in life when blinkers are acceptable. Usually, a life led wisely demands a broader perspective, to consider the needs and circumstances of others and to see the world beyond our narrow existence. But when it comes to comparison, we are free to put those blinkers on, block out the lives of those around us so that all we see is our own. If there are things we still want to change or we’re unhappy with, we can work at figuring out how to move forward, where possible, but only if those areas and dreams are free from ties to a life lived elsewhere.

Comparison is a curse. Why indulge it when the alternative is thankfulness for the blessings in our lives, which leads to greater contentment and peacefulness? If we weren’t so caught up in contests and races, the answer would be a no brainer.

Makarios

Our culture has its own quirks, whether we notice them or not – in fact, the ones we are blissfully unaware of are the ones that have the potential to make the most silent impact.

Our language defines us, whether we choose to let it or not. In our first few months of life, billions of synapses form in our brain and the ones we don’t use gradually fade. We have the ability to speak any language when we’re born but by the time we’re a few years old, if we haven’t heard certain sounds or words, they become more difficult to learn later on. This becomes a grounding principle when we realise that our words are our primary means of expression.

It is one of life’s great mysteries: the feelings, emotions and experiences that we don’t have words to describe. It is why music is so formative – it transcends language and can speak and evoke response without the need for words. But words are also telling – if we have many words for something, we value it enough to try to describe it as best we can. For example, we have one word for rice. To us, it’s rice whether it’s in the field, in a bag or on a plate. But in Asia, you have padi, beras and nasi – the distinction between each is important enough to those who speak that language to make sure they are adequately represented.

So why is it that we only have one word for love? And one word for happiness?

“The Greeks had a word for the feeling one has when one is happy: makarios. It is a feeling of contentment, when one knows one’s place in the world and is satisfied with that place. If your life has been fortunate, you should feel makarios.” (Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes, p.75)

It is a feeling that is so profound and important that the Greeks gave it its own word.

The authors go on to say: “In Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said that if you are a peacemaker, then you are makarios. Since English doesn’t have a word for this feeling, translators have struggled to find one. What do you call it when you feel happy, content, balanced, harmonious and fortunate? Well, translators have concluded, you are blessed... Jesus meant, ‘If you are a peacemaker, then you are in your happy place.’ It just doesn’t work well in English. Alas, here is the bigger problem: maybe the reason we North Americans struggle to find makarios in our personal lives is because we don’t have a word in our native language to denote it.”

Our expectation of one word being able to sum up our current emotion and the important things in our life, also influences how we interpret phrases and whole sentences.

“Paul struggles for a Greek word to describe the fruit (singular) of the Spirit. He describes it as a ‘love-joy-peace-patience-kindness-goodness-faithfulness-gentleness-self-control kind of fruit’ (Gal 5:22). Paul is not giving us a list of various fruits, from which we may pick a few. Rather, he gives us a list of words that circle around the one character of Spirit-filled life he is trying to describe.” (Misreading Scripture… p.74)

I will continue to enjoy those moments that words cannot describe and appreciate them for their awe-someness. I will also continue trying my best to use the words at my disposal to articulate thoughts and emotions. All the while, I acknowledge that sometimes, I need to experience and see beyond the words to the indescribable beauty of life and truth in the Bible and all around me every day.

Togetherness on the path to happiness

Society is constantly pursuing happiness and contentment and most of the time coming up short. When these things are our destination, we end up going in completely the wrong direction. Instead, they should be stopping points along the way to something much better.

You’ll have heard it said that happiness is a choice. When you’re really not feeling it, not only does that sound like a lie, it becomes a frustrating mantra from other people whose lives seem to have blessed them immeasurably and so why wouldn’t they be happy. You’ll also have heard it said that the grass is always greener on the other side.

Practicing thankfulness turns our eyes to the green grass under our feet. If nothing else (and there almost always is a lot else we can identify) we have our Creator and we have a purpose for today – to be his Kingdom on earth. That’s it. That’s the purpose.

The ultimate goal is serving others and showing them a glimpse of how generous, loving, creative and selfless our Maker is. In pursuing that, we usually find that contentment and happiness have crept in unnoticed and simply are.

When I was pursuing happiness and failing miserably, I considered myself weak because I needed other people and felt I was a burden to them. Once again my wise husband’s words were balm to my soul: “It’s not weakness it’s togetherness. You have time right now. Rather than dwell on the sad things, enjoy right now.”

So I’m pursuing a life of serving others. Of talking to and listening to God and to dwelling in and appreciating ‘togetherness’.

Thought for the Day: Fellow travellers

There is a wonderful quote by C.S. Lewis that reminds us of the importance of keeping vision, direction and interests in your life.

“The very condition of having Friends is that we should want something else besides Friends. Where the truthful answer to the question “Do you see the same truth?” would be “I see nothing and I don’t care about the truth; I only want a Friend,” no Friendship can arise – though Affection of course may. There would be nothing for the Friendship to be about; and Friendship must be about something, even if it were only an enthusiasm for dominoes or white mice. Those who have nothing can share nothing; those who are going nowhere can have no fellow-travellers.”

So, what are you sharing and where are you going today? And who’s travelling alongside you?

Friendship, community and serving

“Friends voluntarily tie their hearts to one another.”

This beautiful quote from Tim Keller’s The Way of Wisdom reminded me just how important it is to invest in the people around me.

One of my goals for this year was to find ways to serve others. That doesn’t mean signing up for a rota or doing a few random good deeds. It means an intentional* shift in the way I think, the way I interact and the way I look around me. It means going out of my way to be there for my friends. It means sacrificing my time if needed so that others come first. It means making it a priority to check in with my friends; to find thoughtful actions or ways to make sure they know they are loved.

And it extends beyond my friends. Serving others is hugely rewarding, even when you don’t know them well. It is a privilege. The number of times in the last few weeks, people have served our new little family and when I’ve tried to express my huge gratitude, they’ve responded: ‘Are you kidding me?! It’s a privilege to be trusted and brought into your family.’

That mindset – that others can get deep and genuine joy from serving others and even consider it an honour, no matter how much of a stranger – still staggers me but I want to cultivate it. By serving others, we are serving the Lord; Jesus said when you serve others, you serve me (Matthew 25:35-40). Serving the Lord is what we were created to do, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that it brings us joy!

As a start, I’ll try to check in on my friends more regularly, send more snail mail, try to say ‘yes’ more often and invite people round for a good meal that inspires community. From there, we’ll see how it goes!

Shabbat shalom.

 

*Apologies for the cringe-worthy Christianese but I felt it was appropriate here…

July intentions

I used to be incredibly goal orientated. Truth is, I still am, but with a 2 month old baby, achieving those goals has become increasingly difficult – even the simple ones. I used to get so much done each day, let alone each week or month. I loved the focus and the sense of accomplishment.

Being a Mama has taught me so many new things. Some of those things are:

  • the importance of being in the moment,
  • that small, simple tasks can be a real achievement and
  • that getting everything ticked off a list can’t be the source of my satisfaction.

June is half way through and we’re off on holiday next week so I’m looking ahead to July to some simple things that I’d like to do that are almost entirely centred on wellbeing:

  • Drink 2 litres of water a day (with this bottle which makes drinking water surprisingly enjoyable!)
  • Successfully plan friend’s hen do
  • Do a Quiet Time every day, no matter how short
  • Start a new book
  • Consciously look for ways to serve others
  • Review 6 month New Year goals
  • Start Tae Bo
  • Keep up to speed with CBT course
  • Invite someone round for dinner and plan a really fun meal that gets me back in the kitchen (including aperitif!)

We will see how it goes!

 

Joy

With a new baby, joy has been something heavily on my mind. It is an expected emotion when a tiny human is born and an anticipated aid to help you get through the difficult early days. But joy was not found in my earliest days with our little one and, alongside exploring what that means in terms of emotional health and wellbeing, I’ve also looked at what that means from a Biblical perspective.

“The human spirit can endure in sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?” Proverbs 18:14

Having a joyful spirit is imperative when it comes to tackling the ups and downs of life. Without it, everything becomes crushingly overwhelming. I love the phrase Timothy Keller uses in ‘The Way of Wisdom‘ – ‘I need both a mind convinced by solid arguments and an imagination fired with the beauty of your character and story.’ This is how we pursue joy.

Finding time to read my Bible has been neither a priority nor, seemingly, a possibility, with a newborn, but without that spiritual input, my joy has only been lower. On my lowest days, my husband prayed with me often and encouraged me to be thankful for the small (‘baby steps’ if you please…) accomplishments in the day – from physical healing, getting laundry on or simply keeping our baby alive.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

It’s no coincidence that a central part of CBT and other talking therapies is training your mind to see the good in your day and being thankful. It’s right there in Paul’s letter. Recognising the beginning of a descent, catching it and acknowledging good things in the day, is a powerful tool. When I couldn’t see improvement, joy or anything to be thankful for, my discerning, patient husband would gently point out a few things and help me to see them clearly.

Proverbs is filled with acknowledgements that laughter may still have an aching heart and that grief and rejoicing are closely intertwined (14:13) – simple acknowledgements that no life is perfect or void of sadness, loneliness and confusion. Yet despite all of that, there can be joy and peace alongside the difficult emotions, when we remember the character of Yahweh and keep him at the centre through prayer, reading his word and giving thanks.

 

Trapped in the shadow

My husband possesses what I consider to be a quite remarkable character trait: he doesn’t worry about something until it happens, at which point he sets about dealing with it.

I on the other hand am capable of worrying about the most random, usually highly unlikely but equally highly imaginative scenarios, with great passion and backed up by research which I am quite certain is based on profoundly reliable sources.

He sees today and how today will impact tomorrow. I see a year ahead and wonder how I’m going to get there. Both have their merits but his method allows considerably more room for joy in the present.

If I turn off social media and answer the question my infinitely wise big sister asked me: “If you had nothing and nobody to compare it to, would you be happy with your life today?” The answer would be a resounding ‘yes!’

But this life and our culture forces its timings on us and its ticking hand and encroaching demands fool us into believing that something else is better. It robs us of our patience and tempts us towards things we never needed to know.

So I shall turn off social media for the next little while and instead of looking at other’s lives, I will try to divert that energy into rediscovering the beauty in my own. For it’s only by false comparison that my life looks dull. By returning my attention to my immediate surroundings, I have realised that the only reason my life had lost its shine was because I had trapped it in the shadow of another.

Two sides

In today’s world, there’s a lot of pressure to choose a side. Whom do you believe? Which version is the truth? Which political party will you support? 

The more I’m given an opportunity to pick a side – a work conflict, an election, a public debate – the more I realise that there are always two sides. Most people do not deliberately set out to inflict pain. They just come at the same problems from very different angles.

When you’re the one at the heart of the matter or if it directly impacts someone you love, then it can be excruciatingly hard to see the other side. But there is always another side.

Impulsive, ignorant comments about those with opposing views anger me beyond belief. What is missing in our politics, our workplaces, our culture, is not generosity or care, but understanding amidst dissent. Understanding that we are all different; that we all have our own stories to tell, our own priorities, our own joys, our own heartaches, our own passions and our own anxieties. 

These inevitably lead to disagreement but without conflicting viewpoints, how would we hold one another to account or uncover the best way forward? Without diversity of opinion, how could we celebrate achievement or understand the world around us? 

Of course, there are some who break this mould; who are intent on causing harm and abuse an incredibly misplaced understanding to excuse inhumane behaviour. Those are not the ones to whom this applies. There are some things that will always be wrong, no matter which side you’re on. 

But most of us do not conform to those extreme, judgemental and completely irrational, horrific groups. Most of us are just flawed human beings, feeling our way through an increasingly capricious and confusing maze of life.
We live in a broken world. No one person, party, friend or colleague can make the right decision every time or create a world that works for everyone. It’s on us as individuals to step into the breach, put others before ourselves, make the most informed choices we can and always to remember: there are two sides.