Monthly Archives: June 2016

80: Misunderstood

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Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk and said to her, “How long are you going to stay drunk? Put away your wine.” 1 Samuel 13-14 NIV

We’ve all been misunderstood at some point in our lives. Being taken the wrong way, heard wrongly, taken amiss, these are things that happen in every human relationship. If we are married, we’ll more than likely be very experienced at having the person we love most hear something quite different from what we actually thought we said. As writer and speaker Brene Brown often explains, we are always telling ourselves some kind of story in our heads and if what we think we hear feeds into that, we reinforce that often twisted version of the truth. In those kinds of cases, working through our defence mechanisms and being honest with ourselves and God will hopefully help us dig our way to the truth. But what about other kinds of misunderstandings, like poor Hannah here, pouring her very heart out before God and yet being accused of drunkenness?

Somehow being misread by an authority figure, perhaps especially a priest, is a double injury. When we were trying our best to be authentic and the very representative of that authenticity is scathing, that is a deep and difficult wound to bear. Fortunately, in Hannah’s case, it was quickly set right, simply by her pouring out yet more honesty. But in so many situations like these we can clam up, stammer our way out of the building or just burst into tears at the unfairness of it all.

The worst kind of being misunderstood of course is when the other person claims to know it all, or doesn’t take the time and trouble to find out the truth or to listen. Sadly this happens all too often in church, particularly if it is about an issue, such as marriage difficulties or sexuality  where the answers seem to be not only written in stone, but doled out with about as much warmth. Gender divides are one example, where a woman might be trying to express her desire to practice a particular gifting, and yet be told that she is not allowed to because of her sex. “Because the bible says so” or “Because that is what we believe” is not an adequate answer in and of itself, especially where it is given with no compassion or attempt at explanation. “Because it is what we have always done,” is perhaps more honest but also no help. At its best, being misunderstood feels shameful and frustrating. At its worst, it can be dangerous, as any spouse sent back to an abusive partner “because God hates divorce” well knows.

Hannah’s husband, Elkanah, doesn’t understand her either. She weeps because she has no children, and he says, “Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?” When we are not allowed or unable to articulate our pain and be heard, we suffer from being misunderstood, and it can eat away at us and our sense of self. The cure is often as simple as being given time and space. Patience and understanding are invaluable gifts, and listening a powerful and much underrated ministry. But Hannah knows of course, that the one person who will truly understand is God, and it is to him that she pours out her soul.

God will not only hear us, listen and understand, but he will know more than we can say and care more than we can imagine.

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Pixabay

 

79: Sibling Rivalry

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The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, “Why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the LORD.” Genesis 25:22 NIV

Brothers and sisters who become jealous of one another and can’t seem to stop infighting or competing are something of a motif in the Old Testament. Right from the off, where Cain and Abel eye up each other’s sacrifice to God and end up becoming murderer and victim, it continues on in a sometimes vicious enmity. We see the troubles between Joseph and his brothers and half brothers, between Rachel and Leah, between Jacob and Esau. Robes, husbands, birthrights and even lives are stolen.

In a way, it is a picture of the way the whole human race competes and fights, even though we are all brothers and sisters under the parenthood of God. The Pharisee looks down his nose at his brother the publican, the well-to-do despise the tax collectors and sinners, we all watch and count and judge.

Suppose that instead we decided to watch one another in order to celebrate the good things that we see, to encourage the gifts that each one of us carries, how might that look? Suppose that all the churches did that too, so that from Evangelical Protestant, through Episcopalian and Catholic right across to Greek Orthodox, we looked at one another to see what is wonderful in one another’s traditions, instead of imagining that the Father loves us best, we are doing it right, and the birthright belongs to us alone. What might that be like? Perhaps we might ask one another valuable questions and if we actually listen, learn a new tradition or practice that will help us know Father God better.

To be truly equal, loving brothers and sisters, children of God knowing our value both to him and to one another.

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” 2 Corinthians 5:18-19 NIV

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Pixabay

78: Unattractive

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Leah had weak eyes, but Rachel had a lovely figure and was beautiful.” Genesis 29:17 NIV

Unusually, I wrote this piece before I had a Bible verse to illustrate it. Normally I start with the verse and let it speak to me. But maybe this was providence, for I could not find a single reference to a person describing him or her as unattractive, ugly or not beautiful. Isn’t that wonderful? There is a lot of sexism recorded in the scriptures, and yet women’s beauty is never doubted. Even here, where one sister is preferred over the other, weak eyesight is the worst thing that can be levelled at Leah. In our appearance obsessed society where women especially are taught to constantly find fault with the way we and others look, I found this refreshing.

Feeling unattractive is a horrible thing which can affect anyone, and an insecurity that billion pound industries rely on to feed their unrelenting pockets. If we feel unattractive, then we feel unwanted. We think that no-one will have us, will want to partner us in life, or that the partner we do have is just making do with us, as indeed was Leah’s pain, and we’ll come back to that another day. It feeds fears and jealousies and inadequacies that ruin lives and make us ill.

The world has become so intent on marketable outer beauty now that we tend to forget how to see other ways that people are good to look upon. Some people just shine, whether it is with gentle quietness or raucous laughter, with softness or sassiness, with joyful exuberance or calm delight, with graceful elegance or sweet stumbling clumsiness, there is no end to the ways that real beauty presents herself, regardless of gender.

A voice and how it sings, the way a lock of hair persistently falls over a forehead and will not be tied back, the mole at the side of the mouth, the crow’s feet that crinkle up with every grin. These are the things that endear us to people, their idiosyncrasies, their differences, not the things that we all have in common and certainly not some awful Stepford Spouse homogeny that insists on boring symmetry, flatness, paralysed muscles and careful lack of feeling. A face and a body are places to live out our character, our sex appeal, our true selves, the expression of who we are. Our integrity is what draws people to us. If we imagine that reaching for some marketed ideal of size, shape and smile is true attractiveness or true beauty, we are living and believing a lie.

True beauty is slightly off centre, a little skewed, a bit cracked, lived in, enjoyed. It takes up as much room as it wants to and it sashays or slinks or skips, depending on how it feels. It does not pander to the beholder, nor does it realise how wonderful it is. True beauty lives and moves and has its being in the Lord, in freedom, in being itself.

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Pixabay

 

77: Overwhelmed

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“From the ends of the earth,

I cry to you for help

when my heart is overwhelmed.

Lead me to the towering rock of safety,” Psalm 61:2 NLT

 

We’ve mentioned being overwhelmed by problems, horror, and things that annoy us. Perhaps now is a good time to talk about emotional overwhelm. Those times when we feel so much that it is like we are just gasping for a breath when another wave of sorrow or shock rolls over us. Grief is a lot like that, and if you are a highly sensitive person, watching the news can have a similar effect. As I write, the western world is still reeling from the Orlando killings, and a Member of Parliament, Jo Cox, has been murdered here in the UK yesterday.

We can feel, in the aftermath of such events, completely adrift in a sea of unfamiliar or difficult emotions. We can’t imagine how horrendous it is for the families involved, but even at a distance we feel swept out of control by our feelings of sadness and disbelief that these things can happen. When these are the stories in the media, even the small disturbances in our own lives can send us into heights of anxiety and depths of despair, because we were already hurting so badly. Writing (and reading) about the dark things of life as we have been doing, can also be too much. This blog has even been rather intense the last few days. I will try to space out the really tough stuff so that we can stay on an even keel.

Sometimes, even good things happening can feel utterly overwhelming. I have a book coming out soon and that is great, but still a strain on a person with delicate health. There are days when we feel that the mixture, or juxtaposition of good and bad, joy and sorrow, can itself feel like a seesaw we are incapable of coping with, a rollercoaster we just do not feel capable of riding.

What does the scripture advise us to do at such times? To cry out to God. To know that in him we can find (as most translations put it) “the rock that is higher than I.” Our God is higher ground, a safe place, a tower or a plateau where we can get our breath back and get our emotional spirit levels balanced. Let us then, make the time to rest in him when everything around us is too much and our racing hearts are struggling to beat with his.

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Pixabay

76: Wanting to Die (Trigger Warning)

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I hate my life and don’t want to go on living. Oh, leave me alone for my few remaining days.” Job 7:16 NLT

In my own experience, determining to end your own life is such a traumatic place to be that it does not last long. You either take action, or some level of hope or love intervenes so you don’t go through with it. Having made the decision one way or another for sure is in itself fairly liberating. But choosing life is a big and brave thing to do. It means that you decide to carry on knowing that it is going to be painful, and this is incredibly tough.

Most people who go the other way and fail in their attempts are glad to fail, and frequently see life as gift from then on, but having deep compassion on souls whichever way they go having reached rock bottom, is really important. Knowing what it feels like to want to end everything, I have nothing but empathetic heartbreak for those in that position, and do not presume to judge.

I do counsel continuing because I have faith. Not that life will miraculously turn around and be suddenly wonderful, but that time is indeed, however worn out the cliché, a great healer, and the smallest amount of love, when you are able to either give or receive it, can make life worth living again, in, through and despite any other pain.

In my own life, it was, strangely, the numbness and emptiness I felt at that “now or never” point that made me stay. I was free in that moment to make my own decision. Angry at God for not coming to my rescue, I found that he was trusting me to choose life for myself. And I’m very glad that I did. One of the things that brought me back from that precipice was knowing that I couldn’t hurt my parents like that. Because of course, every untimely death has other victims, and the nightmare of the “what if?s” and the “If only we’d s” will likely plague those who love us for a very long time to come.

But after that decision is made, the really hard work begins. Discounting suicide, we may then have to come to terms for quite a while with living even though we feel like we want to die. We feel hopeless and disconnected to life, cut off from joy and completely unable to see any viable or worthwhile future. It is incredibly tough. This kind of overwhelming depression can last many years, as it did for me, and it is usually healed by small degrees. But take heart my friends, because it IS healed. God may not arrive in a thunderstorm as he did in the face of Job’s utter hopelessness, but he will arrive if we ask him to, and he may be so gentle with us that we do not even realise he is there for a long time. But I am quite sure that he was for me. Every buttercup that summer was a bright sign of his love, and every worried look from anxious parents a mirroring of his care.

When we are broken at the core, the work of holy restoration takes into account our fragility, and takes its own sweet and kind time. Meanwhile, we breathe in and out and we pray, and we hold on to anything around us that is good, knowing that this is of God. I have been rescued by inches, as if pulled slowly from quicksand, and the ground feels a little more solid now, enough to share these things with you, and to know that I am, as we all are, loved beyond measure.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39 NIV

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

If you are feeling suicidal or just finding it all too much, please do ring the Samaritans in the UK on their free to call number: 116 123   They are fantastic listeners and there for you if you are having a tough time. You can also email or write, check out their website here http://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help-you/contact-us

 

Photo from Pixabay

75: Suicidal (Trigger Warning)

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When Ahithophel realized that his advice had not been followed, he saddled his donkey, went to his hometown, set his affairs in order, and hanged himself. He died there and was buried in the family tomb.” 2 Samuel 17:23 NLT

I hate my life and don’t want to go on living. Oh, leave me alone for my few remaining days.” Job 7:16 NLT

There are few actual suicides mentioned in the Bible, Judas Iscariot’s probably being the most well-known, and even that differing between gospel accounts. But there are a lot of times where people talk about wanting to die, as Job does here after his description of his horrible suffering that we looked at part of yesterday.

There is a huge difference of course between feeling like you want to die and actually wanting to kill yourself. The first is a very common experience, for we all have times where we just don’t see the point of carrying on, or we think everyone (including ourselves) would have been better off if we’d never been born. The former comes largely out of great suffering and an acknowledging of pity for oneself. The second is what happens when we not only lose our hope entirely, but also cross over a threshold of emotional and mental distress that makes life unbearable and death the only way we can see of ending the pain.

Because this is such a hugely difficult subject I shall devote tomorrow to it as well, I think with more on my personal experience. Having been in both places thankfully without carrying it through, and having been brought back again from the edge by love and hope, I can perhaps say one or two helpful things. Of course many times it is tragedy or loss that brings us to this point, but I think that the main things that drives us to a place of actually wanting to take our own lives are a complete absence of hope and a sense of failure and shame.

In a lot of societies, it has been considered a less shameful act to “fall on your sword” when you are dishonoured, than to continue, and this seems to be the case with Ahithophel above. But there is nothing honourable about taking any life. I feel that if we came together as a society that did not engender so much shame, that talked openly about failures and how they can teach us, and if we taught that hope can be reborn from the most forlorn looking embers, then suicides would decrease. We often hear the quote about treating both success and failure the same as the imposters they are, but this is not the message that is constantly whirling about us in the media and the ethos of capitalism and the supposed meritocracies of the west.

And yet, there are very few stories of great success that did not first pass through great failures. Many great entrepreneurs had to climb out of poverty and bankruptcy, often more than once, as we already discussed. Likewise, faith needs to pass first through the dark night of the soul (again often more than once) before it becomes great. Perhaps if we embraced the understanding that failures, wounds and heartbreaks cannot only be overcome in time (even if they never completely heal), but can also teach us a great deal along the way, we might become a healthier, happier society, and be less devastated and ashamed when terrible things happen or perceived failures come.

And if we were treated with more compassion, understanding and above all, patience, when at our lowest ebbs, there would be more chance of love and hope finding a way through to redeem our shattered lives when we feel they are no longer worth living. Our own dear saviour, after all, thought his wounds worth retaining in his resurrected body.

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Pixabay

If you are feeling suicidal or just finding it all too much, please do ring the Samaritans in the UK on their free to call number: 116 123   They are fantastic listeners and there for you if you are having a tough time. You can also email or write, check out their website here http://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help-you/contact-us

74: Night Terrors (trauma trigger warning)

 

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When I think my bed will comfort me and my couch will ease my complaint, even then you frighten me with dreams and terrify me with visions, so that I prefer strangling and death, rather than this body of mine.” Job 7: 13-15 NIV

Given that Job had been through a set of traumatic losses, it is perhaps no wonder that he began to exhibit the symptoms of what we might well recognise today as PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Two of the worst parts of this distressing condition are the reliving of the trauma, like a waking nightmare, and what we call night terrors, which are horrifically realistic nightmares, of such power that shake and scream in your sleep. In a bad phase, getting any real rest, let alone refreshing sleep, is nigh on impossible. I can’t help but feel this is what Job is describing here, it sounds so similar.

In any case, there is no rest from the horror of what he has been through. We might think he is mistaken in attributing this part of his suffering to his body, as it seems a straightforwardly mental disorder, but this is not the case. More and more we are finding that the body holds the memory of traumatic events and replays them, reacting in fight or flight modes. An episode triggered by a memory (this can be anything, even a song, a phrase, sound or taste that has some kind of connection to whatever happened to us) is intensely physical as well as emotional and mental. Trauma sufferers experience their pain holistically and it is one of the reasons it is so horrendous.

Another effect of great suffering and loss is that we lose our hope. “My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle, and they come to an end without hope,” says Job, “…and my eyes will never see happiness again.” (Job 7: 6-7 partial NIV). Thankfully as we read Job’s story, we find that it does have a happy ending, since the second half of his life is doubly blessed and he receives a great deal more than he ever did before. But, perhaps tellingly, there is no mention of healing. I personally believe that Job’s wholeness is restored by and in his encounter with the Living God. Such an encounter, which chooses to meet us where we are without answering our myriad of questions; which chooses to show us the great I AM in all the Lord’s glory (and therefore goodness), is powerful beyond all measure and redeems all our suffering, perhaps just as much by a healing of our perspective as of our wholeness as physical, mental, emotional and spiritual beings.

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from morguefile

If you or someone you love is affected by PTSD do check out the help available via your medical practitioner/GP  Here is a useful link: http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/#.V2P6m8vSnIU

73: Annoyances

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Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom.” Song of Solomon 2:15 NIV

The little foxes here are more likely what western eyes would call jackals. In any case the sense I believe is of scavengers, animals that come in and chance their luck, taking whatever good thing we may have left lying around.

Sometimes it can feel like we have scavengers in our lives, little snouts coming in and grabbing pieces of our joy or peace, running off with them, leaving us annoyed and bereft. I have a lot of large problems in my life, but it is usually the little things that push me over the edge and get me upset. This morning, for instance, one of my “little foxes” is the 13-year-old boy over the road who is riding his mate’s motor scooter up and down the road. It’s noisy, and it’s distracting when I’m trying to pray or write, or in today’s case, stay annoyed with my beloved husband about a misunderstanding (another little fox). And with a carer coming and a boiler man later, I guess I need to resign myself to the fact that today is going to be one of those days.

It’s odd because last night I had a lovely moment with my dad on the phone as he spotted a beautiful red fox in his garden. I felt like I was watching it with him. And I suppose that whilst I love foxes and think they are stunning and worth protecting, I also don’t particularly want their cousins nibbling away at my hard won peace. I guess a fox outside someone else’s window is more appealing than one rummaging in my dustbin.

I know that, as Meister Eckhart teaches us, all this small stuff is just so much weather passing. That we are the mountains and not the clouds that swirl around our summits, distracting and upsetting us. And often I can still myself and remember to connect with the Lord’s joy which is my comfort and shelter at such times. But no matter how much we steel ourselves against the big storms, it is often the big splattery raindrops that hit us bang on the nose that get our blood pressure rising. Not the wolves at the door, but the little jackals running in and out to glean the grapes we worked hard to bring to fullness, are the ones who really get our goat and set off our anger.

Our best defence at such times is perhaps to see the ludicrousness of it all, to be generous in our thoughts towards those who cause the niggles, and to accept that these things are going to happen. It is just going to be one of those days. I will still pray and write and trust the Lord. I’ve had a weepy five minutes, and a short session of whingeing prayer (we all need one of these occasionally) and now I shall take some deep breaths and await the rest of the pack of little foxes. Perhaps I shall find instead that they have taken themselves off elsewhere, and if not, I have my refuge somewhere deep down inside.

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Pixabay

 

 

72: Horrified

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Fear and trembling have beset me;

   horror has overwhelmed me.” Psalm 55:5 NIV

Even if I were well enough, you could not get me to watch a horror movie. I hate the portrayal of violence and gore, and am hopelessly easy to frighten. But different things horrify different people. My husband can watch the scariest films and barely bat an eyelid, the same with my stepson. Zombies, vampires and axe-wielding maniacs are merely entertainment to them. As, for that matter, are axe-wielding zombie vampires. But if any spiders are in the house, it’s me who deals with them.

Phobias are horrible irrational fears that can turn our palms sweaty in an instant. I get like that if I see a photo of a great white shark. Okay, slightly more dangerous than a house spider, but the fear is still rather irrational if it is started by a photograph and if it makes me then check under the duvet for possible marine marauders before I will get into bed.

But the horror that is overwhelming David in this Psalm is the horror of betrayal. Someone close to him has turned and become “bloodthirsty and deceitful.” No wonder this has completely taken the wind out of David’s sails and left him cold and shaken. People who betray our trust and cause us harm are far more horrifying than anything that lives in the ocean or that has eight legs.

And David’s hope? What does he hold onto with those sweaty hands to get him through the panic and the tremors? Faith – which can also be weak and trembling, but nevertheless beats any horrors, real or imagined, as long as it remains our anchoring point in life. “But as for me,” says this frightened man of God, “I trust in you.”

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Pixabay

71: Beleaguered

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He has besieged me and surrounded me

   with bitterness and hardship.

He has made me dwell in darkness

   like those long dead. 

He has walled me in so that I cannot escape;

   he has weighed me down with chains.” Lamentations 3: 5-7 NIV

 

Never one to mince his words, Jeremiah accuses God of the very harshest treatment. If we have been through dreadful times, or ever felt surrounded and overwhelmed by problems and difficulties, then we can surely identify with how the prophet expresses his frustration.

Ever since we married, my husband and I have felt besieged by ill health, redundancy and troubles. It takes all our limited strength to keep going and to hold onto our deep and consoling faith. We certainly feel that we are walled in, weighed down and under siege. But somehow, the occasional supplies are being brought in, our creative work sustains our spirits and our tiny garden and bonkers cat remind us that there are things even in all this to lift us and speak to us of the goodness of God.

And we feel the stress, and the strain to attempt to see light in the darkness. And we are exhausted and sometimes hopeless. But we hold onto the Lord and his promises, as Jeremiah too, will do once he has got his misery off his chest, and we will hope that even in the dank airless tomb that these verses describe, we might soon hear that clear and loving voice, calling, “Come out!” and be loosed into new life. Perhaps we may even look over our shoulders at these tough years in wonder as they lie in pieces like a shattered cocoon, suspecting that the transformation we have undergone might not have been possible without them.

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Pixabay