Who is this person standing before me?

When James stepped onto the train, he wasn’t thinking too much about where he would sit. Preoccupied with whatever it was that he was listening to on his phone, he may have been unaware that he had sat down opposite the only other person in the carriage.

The stranger however, was well aware of James, and watched as he put his bag on the seat, expecting maybe to acknowledge his presence with even a nod of the head. But their eyes failed to meet.

The long journey home after work is often tiring, and a time of solitude is often welcome. On this occasion however, the stranger would have been happy to chat.

As the train rolled on and his destination drew nearer, he was well aware that the mystery man listening to music, was someone he was not going to meet.

In today’s uncertain society, it’s understandable why anyone might not be in a hurry to make conversation with a stranger, especially in a lonely train carriage.

But it’s also very sad.

In the book of Genesis, we learn that humanity was created in the image of God. What a mind-blowing concept that is!

To think that the God of the universe, who can make the DNA with its twenty-three chromosomes by merely thinking it into existence, and billions of galaxies without even having to stand up from His throne, made us like Himself!

Clearly, we don’t possess all of His power, knowledge and attributes. But theologians tend to agree, that being made in His image means we have many similar characteristics. Enough to make relationship not only possible and enjoyable but one in which love for each other can thrive.

In that sense, it would be more appropriate to say, we are like Him, rather than that He is like us.

David Benner in his book, “The Gift of Being Yourself”, says…

“Human beings exist because of God’s desire for companionship. We are the fruit of God’s love, reaching out towards creatures who share enough similarity that relationship is possible.”

Just imagine … God wanting to make creatures which He can have as friends. It’s only logical that if we are going to be genuine friends, we have to enjoy some similarities of character, values and mental aptitude.

Despite our similarities, He is still God and we are the beings that He has created.  Recognising our differences suggests that, regardless of our likenesses, there are zillions of things about God, that we will not only never understand, but not even know about.  We will be learning about Him, forever.

But here’s the strange bit.

Benner enlightens us further by likening knowing God, and ourselves, to a circle.

If we want to get to know God, we need to get to know ourselves. And if we want to learn about ourselves, we need to get to know God.

If we have many similarities to God, and we are all like Him, that suggests to me that every human being has many things about them I simply don’t know about also. I have to assume then, that every person has within them, many aspects of God that I am privileged to discover.

What an honour it is then, when coming into the presence of someone, to have the opportunity to learn something of the many things that are unique to them. Things that will bear the resemblance of the One who gave them.

Makes me think twice about rabbiting on about myself when I have so much to learn about you.

Why would anybody want to fiddle with their phone, when seated in front of someone with whom they could be talking… someone who has the characteristics of God?

Being honest with our Self-View

Have you ever owned a car or lived in a house where you liked absolutely every single thing about it?  It’s hard to imagine.

Most of us would manage to find at least one thing if not two or three, that we wouldn’t have included in the design if we had been making it.

My present car probably meets that criteria. I really like it, well, at least nearly all of it. I get rather frustrated that some of the numbers on the instrument panel are a bit hard to read. Surely, they could have made them even a bit larger.

So, do I absolutely hate the car? Am I going to get rid of it?

Not likely. Simply because the good far outweighs the bad. Considering there is so much to like about it, it would be horribly uneconomical to change it for something just because some numbers are a little smaller than I’d have preferred.

Strange thing. But I’ve known many people who find no purpose in living because there is something about their lives they don’t like.

Somehow, the thing they don’t like becomes so big in their minds that all the good things about their lives get swallowed up like a cosmic black hole. Eventually, they find it hard to like even a single thing about themselves.

This is very sad because, by learning to explore and examine the whole of our lives, we are better able to re-define those things that we are less happy about and put them into perspective.

Over the years I have asked many hundreds of people to tell me five things they like about themselves. You can feel the uneasy squirming in the room. The audible groans confirm the unpleasantness of the task.

They ‘um’ and ‘argh’, trying to think of things, taking as long as possible, hoping I’ll ask an easier question instead. Reaffirming that I only want five, seldom seems to lessen the apparent agony of the task.

Why is it so hard to think of only five things we like about what and who we are?

There’s a very good reason.

When we focus on the less desirable aspects of our lives, the less favourably we see the best things about ourselves.  If we continue to dwell on them, eventually, we only see the things in us that we don’t like.

From there, it’s only a short step to becoming convinced that there is nothing good in us.  Life tends to be downhill from here on.

To think that all of this is totally unnecessary.

As a species, humanity has been created in the image of God. Consequently, He has gifted us with a vast array of attributes, skills, qualities, key-capacities and talents, that sets us far apart and above every other created species on earth.

All of these attributes enable us to pursue endless possibilities that allow us to grow, learn, enjoy, experience and design, produce gain and improvement for ourselves, the community and world we live in.

But what about the bits we don’t like?

Nobody likes having aspects of ourselves that we don’t like.  But there’s an easy way to turn things around.  It’s just a matter of rewriting our dislikes and turning them into statements of encouragement.

Do you want to know how to do it?

Let me introduce factious character, James.

James sees himself as a social misfit.  He has a belief that says, “I’m hopeless with talking to people”.  Needless to say, James doesn’t think much of himself overall, because his belief about his communication skills dominates his self-view. This substantially affects the way he interacts with others.

However, if James rewrites this belief into a more realistic statement, life will change dramatically for him. He can easily do it in just three steps.

  1. Get rid of pejorative or put-down type words.
  2. Rewrite the belief more accurately and specifically to reflect the truth.
  3. Include a balanced complimentary view.

In James’s case, he would do the following:

  1. Eliminate the derogatory description, ‘hopeless’. It’s not true. Nobody is hopeless.
  2. Rewrite a more accurate phrase, something like this… “Starting a conversation with strangers is not my best skill”.   This is much more truthful and realistic.
  3. Then add a corresponding truth. Something like this..   “but I can easily talk about things I’m familiar with.”

So James’ new belief sounds like this…

James: “Starting a conversation with strangers is not my best skill, but I love to talk about things I’m familiar with”.

For James, this is a far more accurate way of describing one aspect of himself and puts what he’s not, in perspective against what he really is. Rewriting our self-view, is not hard.

And the best thing about doing it is, that we start to see more clearly all the good things about who we are.

Suddenly, life is worth going on with.

(Incidentally. There are so many things I like about my car, I can’t even remember what it was I didn’t like about the dashboard.)

 

Life Really Matters

http://www.lifereallymatters.com.au

Bananas and Coffee

My one-hundred-year-old step-father was certainly an interesting man. Much to the frustration of most people, especially my mother, he had very strong opinions about almost everything, going to great lengths to prove the rightness of his arguments.

After the death of my mother, he lived on, somewhat contentedly, in a nearby nursing home. Once a week I would pick him up and take him out shopping. It was an event he much looked forward to.

After going to the bank, the chemist and the fruit shop, we would always finish the occasion with a cup of coffee at Hilda’s café. But it was buying bananas that caused me most amusement.

As someone who loved the fruit immensely, consuming at least one a day, he always looked forward to carefully picking them over, even though he was nearly blind, and packing up a bag of around ten or so.

Bananas, on the whole, are really cheap in this part of the country, usually averaging between $1.50 to $2.50 a kilo, but the day came when the banana crop was hit by a dreadful disease. The price soared overnight higher than the orbiting space station. For weeks they sat between nine and twelve dollars a kilo.

I’ll never the forget the first time he saw the dramatically increased price. To you, dear reader, however, you would have to know something of the forceful and emphatic nature of this good man, to appreciate the reaction.

When speaking on a subject on which he was very passionate, he would raise his voice, thump the table to really emphasises the importance of what he was saying, and cause the most distant patron in any café to stop drinking their coffee and wonder where the bomb was. There were a number of topics that I skilfully avoided when we were sipping our coffee in Hilda’s quiet little coffee shop.

“NINE DOLLARS” he would exclaim, “that’s preposterous. Dear oh dear. That can’t be true. I refuse to buy them”. And refuse he did. For weeks he went without his precious bananas which sent him into quite deep depression. When I picked him up each week, I was loath to tell him, certainly, within the confines of the cabin of my car that the price was still up. It would not have created pleasant driving conditions.

On one occasion, I made the mistake of suggesting to him that he always bought cashew nuts each week and they were around sixteen dollars a kilo. Even chocolate, (another delicacy he would buy) I said, at two dollars fifty a one-hundred-gram bar, worked out at twenty-five dollars a kilo.  So Bananas were still cheap.

These comments were met with a stony silence that was reinforced by a slow shake of the head, as he wandered off.

Years later, I was musing on this fondly-remembered experience, as to how we can hold dichotomous views on values. How easily we can pay a high price for one thing, while rejecting something else, even though it may have much the same or lesser numerical value.

I found myself reviewing some of the things we purchase in our home. I discovered for me, it was more about coffee. How willingly I sit down in a café and consume a cup of, sometimes not-so-good coffee which is usually around three dollars fifty.

The difference here is that it’s only two hundred mills which equates to around eighteen dollars a kilo or litre. At the end of which, I walk out of the shop with nothing to show for it. At least my stepfather would walk out of the shop with a bag of fruit.

In our family, we consume a lot of fresh vegetables and fruit. Aubergine or Egg plant is one such vegetable usually costing around two to three dollars a kilo. One week they became scarce, the price soared to eight dollars a kilo. My wife was shocked and refused to buy them.

I remember saying, “Wait a minute. Don’t we pay sixteen dollars a kilo for coffee and have nothing to show for it? Why would we not pay only four dollars for half a kilo of a vegetable that we will get two meals out of?” Strange how logic is not always a convincing argument. We didn’t buy it.

These days, I find myself comparing most things to the price of a cup of coffee and now pay for things I would have once rejected. But I guess the greater lesson for me was the question… ‘What about all of my other values in life?’ To what do I compare them? What do I use as my base value, for any or everything?

Of course, the material things of this world, like bananas and coffee, although we are surrounded by them every day, have only superficial value. Jesus told us to value things according to His Kingdom principles. I’m not too sure that many of His followers could even name what they are. But I have determined to be thoroughly familiar with them, so that on a day to day basis, I don’t have to struggle over apparent disparities.

Thanks to both bananas and coffee, it was a clear time of learning to put values in perspective.

Job wrote of wisdom saying,

 “Where can wisdom be found? … Mankind doesn’t appreciate its value; and you won’t find it anywhere on earth…  You can’t buy it with gold, and its value cannot be calculated in silver…  It cannot be compared to gold from Ophir, with precious onyx, or with sapphire… It cannot be compared to fine glass crystal, nor can it be exchanged for gold-plated weaponry”              Job 28:12 – 17

Jesus spoke frequently of values, encouraging us to understand true value. He particularly wanted us to understand how the Father values us. He once said…

“Two sparrows are sold for a penny, aren’t they? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father’s permission.

Why, even all the hairs on your head have all been counted! So stop being afraid. You are worth more than a bunch of sparrows.”    Mat 10:29-31

“.. what profit will a person have if he gains the whole world and loses his life? Or what can a person give in exchange for his life? Mat 16:26

Bananas and coffee at any price, seem cheap compared with the value of our soul.

 

Life Really Matters

www.lifereallymatters.com.au

 

Four Myths about Addiction

There are many myths about addiction, but these four are pivotal for change.

Renowned therapist, Ernie Larson said, “Alcohol is in bottles, addiction is in people”.

Many people would disagree with him, believing most adamantly that their addiction is firmly about the substance they are addicted to.

Despite their disagreement, he happens to be right. For addiction is not about the thing we are addicted to, but something far more subtle, unspoken of and unseen… our thinking!  Human beings suffer from addictive thinking, and it affects most of us.

Thinking that is trapped in our heads, never deviating or considering alternative points of view. And that’s not such a bad thing, if the thinking happens to be healthy, validates who we are as a person, and results in positive behaviours that enhance our life and the lives of others.

It’s not so good if it is unhealthy, self-destructive, stops us from growing, and produces only fear, anxiety, discouragement, worry, stress, a lack of self-worth or hopelessness.

The way we tend to deal with our unhealthy addictive thinking is by diverting our troubled minds by any of the well-known choices… alcohol, drugs, eating, shopping, surfing the net, sex, becoming a workaholic, pursuit of power or academic achievement, accumulation of wealth or possessions.

There are endless activities that we can engage in, in an attempt to pacify our restless minds.  An involvement that only temporarily gives us relief from our troubled minds. Temporary, because we are always needing more.

When we finally notice that our lives are starting to fall apart at the seams, we endeavour to put the brakes on by applying some form of limitations on our actions.

It rarely occurs to us that the lasting solution to our disabling condition is to change our thinking. That idea doesn’t even appear on the radar.

But changing our thinking is not that hard and actually produces the result we long for… peace of mind and freedom from addiction.

In our frantic efforts to find the solution, four common myths are widely held.

The first Myth

I’d know if I was addicted

How often have others heard that statement, “I’m not addicted. I’d know if I was.”  Nothing could be further from the truth.

There are many indicators of the presence of an addiction. You can easily find lists of questions, the answers to which, strongly indicate if something is amiss. But there is a simpler way of knowing.

A good indicator of the presence of an addiction is when..

“Normal life is substituted by some pervasive activity.”

There is so much time and effort invested into the activity, (drinking, collecting, gardening, shopping, making money, whatever…) that normal life is squeezed out.

People stop spending time with their spouse, their family, their kids, the dishes are not washed, the lawn left unmown, bills are unpaid. Healthy or regular meals are skipped, our house becomes untidy, we are not putting in the effort at work, or addressing life’s normal needs. All are indicators that something else is taking up our time.

In an effort to convince others that there is nothing wrong, we may put in extra effort at work, at home or with other activities, but in other areas of the life, there will be absences and gaps.

Sadly, many people don’t realize that things are being pushed aside or left undone until, that which is being left undone begins to reveal drastic outcomes… we can’t pay the rent, our health starts cracking up, a spouse leaves, an accident… whatever.

No. We don’t always know when we are becoming addicted to something.

The second Myth

Addiction can be kept a secret

It’s not hard to see when someone is not managing their day-to-day affairs. While everyone has their own style of living, it’s not hard for others to see when someone is departing from it.

Raising the issue out of concern, frequently evokes an off-handed, joking style response. But as the comments increase, the responses become more defensive, vehemently denying any excessive consumption or involvement.

Once a few comments have been made, great effort begins to keep the addictive behaviour hidden. Enormous effort is put in to devise ways of engaging in the activity without leaving any trace that can be observed or discovered.

Life becomes more secretive, ensuring all traces of our activity are erased or disguised.  Deception becomes the norm.

No. Addiction can’t be kept a secret.

The third Myth

I CAN STOP ANYTIME

If only that were true. Millions of people would be able to walk away from their captor and live a life of freedom.

But sadly, it isn’t.

The two psychologists Prochaska and DiClementes said there are six stages in the wheel of change, and the average person goes around the wheel five times before change finally occurs.

Records of those who enter rehabilitation centres for alcohol addiction, verify this number of attempts.

No. It’s not easy to just stop anytime.

The Fourth Myth

I can deal with my addiction on my own

Yes, you can certainly try. You might even succeed, but your chance of success is far greater when you are open to the help and support that is available to you from others.

Without help from others, there is nobody to be accountable to. Our attempts at ongoing deception will not be challenged. And to be challenged and supported is what we really need.

In the well-known Alcoholics Anonymous twelve-step program, the very first words of the very first step are, “We came to admit…”

These powerful words recognise that it often takes a long time for us to admit we need help beyond ourselves. The word admit acknowledges that from the very beginning, we have not been able to admit that we had a problem.

Believing these words in our heart and saying them in the presence of others, puts us on the road to change.

Humans can be very judgemental at times and quick to sneer at our choices and actions. But when we genuinely reach out to others, humanity reveals its far more compassionate side and is eager to help and support.

The daily news amply supports this when we see people rally round others in times of accident, disaster, famine, earthquakes and other times of difficulty that can fall on any of us at any time.

Even with the support of others, change can be difficult and demands more devotion to it, than that we have invested in what is controlling us.

But there is incredibly good news for everyone who longs for change.

In the book of Romans in the New Testament, the apostle Paul tells us that God is eager to help us, especially in times of trouble. He said…[i]

“Let God transform you into a new person, by changing the way you think.”

Note the word, ‘let’. This is about giving God permission to get involved in our lives.

God is the author of the principles of Boundaries. He has given us full responsibility over our own lives. However, because we are free to make our own choices, we also must deal with the consequences that those choices bring on.

This news tells us that with our invitation, He is ready to step in and help us with the changes that we are struggling to make ourselves.

How good is that?

You will notice also that the changes He wants to make, are those involved with our way of thinking…. Yes, that’s right. Our addictive thinking.

No. We cannot and ought not to attempt it on our own.

So the four secrets to changing our addictive thinking are…
  • Listen to what others are saying.
  • Don’t keep it a secret.
  • Seek help early
  • Engage the help and support of those who are keen to help…
  • Especially God!

[i] Romans Chapter 12 verse 2 NLT

The Great Competition for Love

How odd is this thing called love.

Philosophers, poets, writers and film makers have for centuries written about it and tried to explain or define it, but the best we can do is tell or show some of the ways it reveals itself.

A young girl was showing grandma her dolls. She talked about each one, then lifted one off the shelf and handed it to her Gran.

“This one,” she said, “is my favourite”.

The doll was old, ragged and well-worn. An eye was missing, and the ragged material had long since faded. Granny was taken aback and couldn’t resist asking why this was her favourite.

“Well”, she said, “if I didn’t love her, nobody would”.

Is this real love?  What makes it so?

Continue reading “The Great Competition for Love”

The unexpected gifts through being at peace with God

Getting along with the people in our world is directly related to two essential traits.

The first, knowing and liking who I am, is absolutely essential if I am to relate genuinely to the people I know and meet. If I don’t like myself, how can I expect others to?

Having at least some relationship skills, undoubtedly ranks second.

But neither of these is much use, if I leave out the most important requirement of all… the need to be at peace with God.

Some might think that a rather odd thing, especially if they have lots of friends and don’t believe in God.

Why do we need to be at peace with God?

The reason might surprise you.

Continue reading “The unexpected gifts through being at peace with God”

First impressions can be misleading

A well-known Roman Philosopher had divorced his wife, and the talk around town was divided.

One day, he was standing in the market when he overheard a conversation going on behind him.  “Wasn’t she beautiful? Wasn’t she chaste?”

He turned around, took of his shoe and said, “Look at my sandal. Isn’t it beautiful? Isn’t it well made? But who amongst you can tell me where it pinches me?”

I often think of that reply and how easy it is for all of us to quickly make judgements based on what we see and think we know.

Continue reading “First impressions can be misleading”

So what’s with the lighthouse?

Apart from the fact that I like lighthouses and find them fascinating and mysterious, they seem to express the ideas and concepts I wish to write about.

 

Most of us would agree that the bright flashing light warns of danger.

I like to think that there’s another way of thinking about it. The captain of a ship may also conclude, “If I stay in the safe lanes designated on the map, I’ll be safe and have nothing to worry about.”

Over many years talking to people in distress, I have seen a strong parallel with the idea of following known and reliable paths. The problem is, not everybody knows about those paths. simply because they have forgotten about them, drifted away from them, or never had the opportunity to learn about them.

It is those safe and proven paths, I wish to share.

Some of the things you will find in the coming pages, will be familiar to you. Others may not.

I look forward to sharing with you, some of the paths I have seen, that are worth following.

Understanding our differences

Albert Einstein once said, ‘Men marry women with the hope they will never change. Women marry men with the hope they will change. Invariably they are both disappointed’.

 

Brilliant as he definitely was, Einstein, only got it half right. You don’t have to be disappointed.

 

Terry and Joanne were both struggling in their marriage. They said they loved each other but somehow, Joanne found herself continually irritated by the way Terry did things.

Terry, on the other hand, couldn’t see anything wrong with the way he did things and failed to see what Joanne was all upset about.

The body language said it all. Joanne was leaning as far away from Terry to make it clearly obvious there was something she didn’t like about him.

Joanne had dragged Terry along to see me in the hope that I would agree with Joanne, that Terry was quite screwed up and I would tell him in no uncertain manner that he needed to change the way he did things.

This strange idea is based on the myth that counsellors have a vast bucket of knowledge, wisdom and good judgement. To say nothing of authority. How wrong she was. We are just ordinary people like everybody else.

What we are well-skilled in however, is the ability to observe what is going on right in front of us. Hopefully, with the skills to reflect this behaviour back to the clients in a way that they will see the light and decide what they want to do about it.  That’s the theory.

Well it seldom works as easy as that.

Continue reading “Understanding our differences”