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.

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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.

 

As for me and my house

“As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

~ Joshua 24:15

This verse has had layers of meaning added to it over recent weeks. It has popped up often in my quiet times, in conversation and at a conference I went to recently.

It reminds me that no matter what I may do and say, no matter what priorities push to the fore and no matter what stage of life I am at, there is one thing that remains the same: I serve the Lord. Regardless of the goals I have for myself, for us as a couple or for our future family, we serve the One who made us.

It is a declaration over my household and to all who enter that we are made to live for God and it is a challenge to me to make time in my daily schedule to spend time with my Father to bring my perspective in line with His. When I do that, the definition of a life well lived is realigned and falls according to how willingly I’m bringing God into my every day.

Joshua knew where his allegiance lay. He was speaking to God’s chosen people and even they had forgotten the great I Am and all that He had done for them. There was no shame in Joshua’s declaration. For me, it is a promise not only for myself but for my family, that those who live under our roof serve the Lord and as such, our relationship with Him becomes our priority.

July hopes

July Hopes 2015

It’s about time I set some goals again. The last time I set myself any semblance of an aim was in May 2014 followed by some reflections in June and a hope that I would be able to enjoy summer and see where it led. Summer didn’t lead anywhere good in 2014 and neither did the months that followed but it’s been exactly one year since then. How fitting that now is the time when I’m ready to get back into the business of looking forward.

>Hopes<

Stargaze. We’ve recently bought a GoPro and my husband is experimenting with slow motion, time lapse and short clips. One evening he set a short time lapse and I watched as the stars emerged from behind clouds and rose in the sky as the sun set. I want to do more of this while the evenings are still warm enough to enjoy being outside. If there’s any chance of me looking through a telescope, even better!

Read the Bible in German more. I’ve mentioned many times how important my German heritage is to me because of my grandparents and how their faith and character inspired me. Reading my Bible in German connects me even more to the meaning of the words as I associate them with the man who used to read them to me and lived them until his last breath. I realise ‘more’ is vague as even once would be more than I am reading it in German now but I hope it will be the start of a habit of reading the Bible in this lovely language.

Re-visit my 2015 year aims. It’s half way through the year. About time I checked in to see where I’m at compared to where I set out to be at the start of January.

Go to the cinema twice. Shouldn’t be hard, there are enough movies I want to see at the moment!

Go to a National Trust site. Our membership runs out in September so we want to make the most of it before then!

>6 month ambitions<

Why not look a little further ahead? We’re six months through twelve, a perfect time to reassess and challenge myself to something new. The one thing I’d really like to try is to make a meal every month from now until Christmas, without a recipe. My husband is great at this so I intend to make it a joint goal and I’m already looking forward to it. We shop, we find ingredients we enjoy and we make something that is ours. Fun for a date night activity and a great kitchen venture as soon as our new kitchen arrives in two weeks!

Work like the ant

I’ve found that when I have a productive day at work, I enjoy my leisure time immeasurably more. When I have been fruitful in my day’s work, my rest is the more refreshing for it.

Proverbs 6:6

Go to the ant, O sluggard;
    consider her ways, and be wise.
Without having any chief,
    officer, or ruler,
she prepares her bread in summer
    and gathers her food in harvest.

When I’ve had a lethargic day in the office, I am restless in the evenings, slow to settle and quick to fidget. The opposite is true if my day’s labour has been rewarding – I am quick to unwind and enjoy the pleasure of a job well done.

Don’t get me wrong, a frustrating day at work will keep me wound like a coil for a long time after I get home and I am then equally slow to unwind as if I’d had a day that yielded little or nothing. But somehow, it is a different kind of relaxing that is slow to be forthcoming as it is then my mind, not my body, that demands time to relax.

The latter, however, is something I have less control over than the former. I have only myself to blame if I haven’t geared myself up to produce something worthy of the time given to me in my day. Frustrations are inherent in the workplace and come from a combination of sources, most of which I have little or no control or influence over, so those days I simply accept that my mind will take a while to relax. But where possible, I would like to learn from the ant, working hard when I have the energy and motivation to do so and revelling in the rewarding relaxation that ensues.