Holiness

I am delighted to finally be resurrecting my devotional blog. I hope to do it weekly as before – let’s just see if I manage that!

Reflections based on 1 Peter 1:13–16.

I am excited to be exploring the theme of holiness with you for this next devotional series. I think it can often be a theme that is somewhat overlooked these days, but I believe it is very important to have a clear understanding of it, as it helps us to lead our lives well. Of course, the starting place for such a study has to be God.

Too often when we think of holiness our minds immediately turn to all the things we think we should be doing and know we arent. And yet, while that is where the 1 Peter passage starts, it all stems from the fact that God is holiness itself. Yes He does call us to be holy, and we do need to remember and not belittle that, but He does so because He is.

So let’s start by looking at the majestic holiness of God, as it is only when we truly understand His holiness that His call for holiness from us makes sense. His holiness far surpasses what human holiness can achieve because, in essence, it is the fact that He is God. What is incredible is that God Himself chose to find ways in which He could commune with His people – and offers us ways in which to partake of holiness for ourselves.

Prayer idea Take some time to thank God for choosing to come close to you and ask Him to reveal more about holiness as you engage with this new weekly blog series.

Book anniversary

There are few things more exciting for an author than to see their book baby in their hands for the first time. Today is the first anniversary of my book Taking Off the Mask, so I couldn’t let the day pass without marking it with a blog post. I had written books before this one (and some after too), but this was the one that I had had on my heart for quite a few years before it came out. It was also the one that I had the hardest time getting published! But out it came last November, and I was blown away by all the support from the team who helped produce it, those who helped launch it, other colleagues and all my family and friends. (You can still buy the book direct from me and I’d be happy to sign it for you – please click here to find out more.)

Authenticity is such a passion of mine and it is the subject of many of the talks I do. I firmly believe that church should be a place where we can be honest about our struggles. Life is tough, and we all need those close friends who we can share with openly and get support, prayer and, yes, challenge when necessary. Far too often we hide what is going on, afraid of rejection or ashamed that we are struggling at all. But that is not the way that God intended us to live.

God sometimes surprises us too: when I started my own journey with this subject I never realised I would one day write a book about it and become a regular speaker (the shy introvert in me is still taken aback by that one). And yet I absolutely LOVE all the opportunities that He has opened up. That isn’t to say that I find everything easy – often His nudges necessitate a whole lot of faith and courage on our part. But we can rest assured that He accepts, loves and holds us – He is the ultimate champion of each one of us and loves it when we step into the new things He has lovingly prepared for us!

I feel so privileged to be able to mark this one year anniversary. And I’m excited to let you know that I’m working on another book currently – this time co-written with the lovely Heather Churchill. It is Insight into Shame – something that each one of us experiences at some time in our lives. While my own story could have kept me locked in shame, I now freely share it in the hopes that it encourages others to open up. And I’m praying over this new book as I put it together, that the insights within it will help people walk free from the shame that has held them for so long.

Taught to trust

Taken by Kate’s husband, John Vilkaitis

Today I welcome Kate Nicholas to the Unmasked: stories of authenticity series. I thoroughly enjoyed her book Sea Changed, and found her insights and courage in the midst of cancer inspirational. She shares here about the need to let go of control and trust Jesus.

For most of my life, I have been a bona fide control freak. It is a tendency honed by years of working in, and with, the media – initially as a journalist then editor-in-chief of business and current affairs magazine and global communications chief of Christian aid agency World Vision.

In the cut and thrust of the newsroom, or the midst of a humanitarian crisis, there is little room for you to be vulnerable. As a leader you have to be seen to be strong, resilient and in control, and in order to survive many develop a mask to hide the child within. My husband used to jokingly refer to the tough persona that I unwittingly developed as Kate Nicholas plc.

It also isn’t easy being a Christian in the media. All too often those with faith are dismissed as too trusting and naive to have the critical faculties necessary for serious journalism. But this view is based on a fundamental misconception about the nature of trust.

Trust isn’t a passive option.It often requires considerable courage. It is the opposite of being in control and learning to trust is sometimes incredibly challenging.

NO CHOICE BUT TO TRUST

It was the summer of 2014 when I was first diagnosed with advanced inoperable cancer that had spread around my heart. My prognosis was not good and I found myself in a situation that was completely beyond my control.

There was absolutely nothing I could do to change it. All I could do was trust that God would do what was best for me. Cancer is a great trust teacher!

From the outset, I felt that God was with me in the midst of my suffering. I had a strong impression that he was telling me to let go, to stop holding on so tightly to my life, and let him take the helm. And it was only when I finally gave in, and surrendered my control freak tendencies, that God was able to do something wonderful and transformative.

LEARNING FROM PETER

The Gospel of Matthew includes a remarkable story about trust. Matthew recounts an incident that took place on the Sea of Galilee. It was a stormy night, and the apostles were rowing through the darkness when they saw what they thought was an apparition walking towards them across the surface of the water. They were understandably afraid and cried out in terror, but then they heard a voice saying, ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’

They thought it was Jesus but couldn’t be sure so Peter replied, ‘Lord, if it’s you . . . tell me to come to you on the water.’ And when Jesus said simply, ‘Come,’ without hesitation Peter climbed out of the boat and, as the storm raged around him, stepped out in faith towards his Saviour. It is probably the greatest example of breathtaking, inspiring human trust in Scripture.

All too often we focus on the fact that, a few moments later, Peter took his eye off Christ and, looking down at the waves at his feet, began to panic and sink, but this doesn’t diminish the extraordinary trust that he initially displayed. For a moment he put his faith into action and acted on his belief.

To trust is let go of our need for control.Trust isn’t safe. It requires us to step out of our comfort zone and it severely challenges those of us who feel the need to plan every aspect of our lives (and others’) down to the last detail. Trust demands that we, like Peter, be willing to step out in faith into the unknown.

The Hebrew word for ‘to trust’ in the Old Testament is bataach, which means to have a bold, confident security, and the New Testament Greek word pisteuo means to have confidence in the thing believed. Trust requires us to take the risk of believing in that which we can’t yet see,to let go of our own inadequate and incomplete understanding of God’s plans and recognise that he is on the throne.

Living trusting in ourselves is frankly exhausting and ultimately futile, but we will find that when we are willing to truly hand over control to our creator, God will transform us in more ways than we can ever imagine.

Kate Nicholas is an author, broadcaster and consultant with 30 years’ experience working in media and communications. She preaches at the church of St Peter and St Paul, Olney where the world-famous hymn Amazing Grace was written.

Kate’s best-selling memoir Sea Changed (shortlisted Christian Biography of the Year 2017) tells the story of her unconventional journey of faith and healing from advanced cancer. Her latest book Sea Changed: A Companion Guide – Living a Transformed Lifelooks at how God uses the circumstances of our lives to transform us, as well at what the fruits of this transformation look like – including the ultimate transformation that takes place at the end of our earthly life. Her recent 12-part TV series Living a Transformed Life (which aired on TBN UK) can be viewed free on demand at www.katenicholas.co.ukor   https://www.tbnuk.org/vod/watch/living-a-transformed-life/our-god-of-transformation

Kate’s books are available at Christian bookstores and Waterstones throughout the UK and online at eden.co.uk and Amazon worldwide.

 

Where is God?

The winning artwork: ‘A thousand bottles of tears’ by Deborah Tompsett

Earlier this year a new art competition was launched: the Chaiya Art Awards. The theme was ‘Where is God in our 21stcentury world?’ The finalists’ artwork made up an exhibition held at the prestigious gallery@oxo at Easter. More recently, a beautiful hardback coffee table book written featuring all the finalists has been created. To celebrate its launch, I have the huge pleasure of being a part of the book’s blog tour. Here, the founder of the art award, Katrina Moss, reveals the idea behind it and what she wanted to achieve – as well as details about another competition. (Special thanks for Jonny Back for his beautiful photography.)

Where did the idea for the competition come from?

I thought it would be fantastic to create an arena where artists could explore their spirituality through their art and creativity. The feedback I had from artists is that galleries aren’t always interested in art that explores faith. We deliberately made the competition theme based, to focus the work to explore the depth and mystery of God. During the competition I received several emails thanking us for opening up this opportunity. “It has given my practise a significant boost to my confidence and creativity,” said one artist.

‘In the detail’ by Kate Green

Do you come from an artistic family and are you an artist yourself?

I don’t come from an artistic family at all. In my thirties I had a significant breakdown and one of the things that happened in the process of getting well was something unlocked inside of me. I found in the darkest of times an incredible release in being able to express myself creatively. Making art continues to allow me to express myself in life – in the joyous, the confusing, the difficult, the times of sadness and gut-wrenching disappointment. Art is like music; it allows us to communicate things that are beyond words and engages us at a deep emotional level. My current form of making is mosaics.

Did you have a large number of entries for the competition?

We were amazed. In the first three months from our launch in September 2017 we had 80 entries; in the final month we were overwhelmed as the total grew to 453 entries. The entries varied from photography, sculpture, textiles, videos, ceramics, drawing to painting. We were thrilled. The standard of work was really high and we had entrants from all ages across the entire UK including Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man. The website had nearly 30,000 hits and visitors to the exhibition numbers were 2,700 plus. (I say plus because sometimes there were so many visitors they didn’t all get recorded.)

Ann (left) and Katrina

 How did the book come about?

I knew I wanted a standalone book that would also complement the  exhibition. We were doing something new, something truly innovative  and I wanted a far greater number of people to enjoy, explore, question and meditate on the work. I think Ann did a superb job in pulling the book together because her writing is so creative and meditative and works perfectly alongside the art. She and I have been friends for 35 years and I have always loved her writing. Our passion for seeing work of faith and spirituality created remains undiminished. It was lovely to work on another project together.

What were the outcomes you hoped for?

There were three things I was looking for:

  • To allow artwork that explored the theme to stand alongside other contemporary galleries in our capital city in such an iconic location.
  • To allow the public to discover something of the possibility of transcendence in our hugely secular society.
  • I wanted the artwork to be for sale to help the careers of the artists. Over 25 per cent of the pieces were sold. It is fantastic that through the exhibition artwork found its way into people homes and workplaces.

As it was so successful, are you planning you do another competition?

Yes, we will. We will announce the theme Easter 2019 and the competition exhibition will be Easter 2020. Please sign up to our website if you want to be kept informed and enter the competition. Everyone is welcome to contribute.

Where is God in our 21st Century World? by Ann Clifford was published by Instant Apostle on 21 September 2018. It is available from bookshops, online retailers and the Chaiya Art Awards website.

Getting real

 

Today I have the huge pleasure of introducing Catherine Parks as a guest blogger on the Unmasked: stories of authenticity blog series. Catherine has written a brilliant, challenging book called Real: the surprising secret to deeper relationships. In it, she describes how she discovered that repentance is the key to creating genuine, authentic relationships. She expands on an extract of the book below to share with us how she learned to cultivate the habit of repentance in her own life.

I’m not generally one to talk about the deep parts of myself – my fears, sins, or even triumphs. I naturally shrug off questions about myself, partly afraid to let others in, distrustful of my motives and heart, and partly because I’m not always aware of what’s really going on in my heart. But thankfully, the Lord has given me two dear friends who, over time, have learned to pull me out of myself. One of these friends moved to my town a few years ago, and we immediately started spending regular time together. After the first few occasions, I noticed that whenever we met up she would ask, “How’s your heart?”

To me, this was an awkward question, and a little strong coming from someone I hadn’t known that long. Not one to go too deep too quickly, I didn’t have a great answer. The first couple of times I just said, “Oh, good, I think. Yeah. Nothing much going on.” And then I turned it back on herand she told me some of the things she was struggling with. She eventually commented on how I was so laid back and must just not be dealing with much. She thought my marriage was perfect. She thought my kids must be angels.

It wasn’t so much that I was trying to hide some secret sin from her; I just didn’t really know how my heart was. But I didn’t want to give her the wrong idea about things, so eventually I started preparingon my way to meet her, trying to figure out what I would say when she asked me. I was motivated by her opinion of me.I wanted her to think I was reciprocating in the relationships, and that I didn’t think I was perfect. I was driven by pride and thinking too much of myself.

While my motivation was wrong, the effect was so good. I started actually examining my heart, praying for sin to be revealed, and then confessing it to another person.I had always analyzed everything around me, but tended to neglect my own heart.

The benefits of this friendship started to affect my other relationships.I was more open with my husband about my struggles because I was actually putting a name to them. I was quicker to admit failure and sin to other friends,particularly one who had waited for years for me to be more forthcoming and transparent. And because I had identified specific struggles, I was learning to recognize my temptations and to pray for help in the moment.

Vulnerability takes time and trust.I could trust my friend because I had spent time with her. I knew she cared about me. I knew she was on my team, helping me to fight my sin. And I saw her own willingness to be vulnerable,which paved the way for me to follow.

Yes, this takes time and trust – but it is worth it. Because ultimately, in relationship with other Spirit-filled, grace-loving believers, confession isn’t about judgment and guilt – it’s an opportunity to rejoice in the gospel together, side-by-side, praising the Savior whose sacrifice brings us the forgiveness and grace we all so desperately need.

Catherine Parks loves to help women build friendships around scripture. She has written for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and Christianity Today. She lives in Nashville with her husband, two children and a cute mutt named Ollie.

 

 

 

 

Finding worth in Jesus

Anne le Tissier is a writer and speaker who has authored several books and has a passion to disciple Christians. Her latest book, The Mirror That Speaks Back, is centred around us finding our worth in Jesus, but is also deeply personal.

Firstly, I have known you as a regular contributor to magazines, often unpacking biblical texts, as well as a book writer. Has this always been your career, or did you have a different job? If the latter, what led you to pursue writing?

I pursued a career in investment banking after leaving school, but it was while taking a year out in my early twenties to travel the world and train with YWAM, that I first sensed God gently steering me into a new direction.

Travelling solo, my only company was a journal. I filled its pages, two lines of miniature writing to a space, sharing in intricate detail my experiences, what I felt God was teaching me, how I was feeling, etc. And that was how God ignited a desire to write. Mind you, it took another 14 years for my first book to be published.

You are extremely honest in this book: sharing personal experience of an eating disorder, abusive relationship and other difficulties. What led you to do that?

I’ve read a good number of teaching or self-help books, all of which have a part to play in helping people find healing from self-image issues. But when I was commissioned to write The Mirror That Speaks Back, I knew there was no point trying to duplicate what was already out there, not least, because I’m not qualified to.

I knew from the moment I prayed, God’s prompting to share my story. I’ll admit that wasn’t easy – I am by nature an extremely private person. So you can imagine my ‘wobbles’ while writing some of that story – I even suggested to my editor, close to publication, that a certain scene might be deleted (they quite rightly disagreed!). That said, I still left out great chunks of my story that were just too painful or inappropriate to put on the page.

The book is aimed particularly at women younger than you – why is that? Your publisher likens it to a letter written to such women – is that how you viewed the writing of it? And how differently did you approach writing this book to others you have written in the past?

I was specifically commissioned to write a book for younger women, which I admit, I didn’t find easy. It’s been a while since I was their age and it’s not my usual genre.

I developed a questionnaire to help me connect with the issues young women struggle with, and to hear their take on faith and life, from their cultural perspective. I sent it to a number of contacts who came my way, some of whom forwarded it on, and some who kindly arranged for me to visit their groups in person, where the girls/young women answered the questions face-to-face on the basis I kept them anonymous. I always went armed with a ‘thank you’ tin of homemade cake and they were all great fun as well as extremely honest with me, which I have to say, was a privilege. In fact, they even had to explain a few terms to me, like, ‘contouring’!  Other young women returned the questionnaire to me by email; again, on the basis I gave them a pseudonym. And there were a few who posted it back anonymously.

Interestingly, however, although the pressure comes through different formats (social media, for example), self-image issues today are much like those when I was young.

Consequently, my approach to writing the book was different to others I’ve written in that I tried to keep the sub-themes of each chapter as short and succinct as possible, plus, of course, I wove in young women’s responses into the text (anonymously).

But even as I was writing, I sensed the book had potential to speak into lives of older women too – and that has proved true, both from reviews and from readers who have contacted me; the eldest, age 86!

Why does body image have such a huge effect on our identity as women?

I’d like to say it’s part of today’s culture, but I looked into the history while researching Mirror, and it’s been around for centuries; longer even than when beauty was defined by a flawless white complexion, and women painted their faces with deadly poison (powdered lead). Just bring to mind images of ancient Egyptian women with their lithe figures, painted faces, stylised hair and banded gold jewellery, and you can see what a history we’ve inherited.

So here’s a short answer to a massive question. We all have an innate longing to be valued and loved, and if we can’t achieve that through some definition of success, intellectual capacity, level of income or the ability to conceive and birth children, some of us might look to our body to help us attain it. Too often, however, no matter how much we squeeze, starve, cut, nip, enlarge, reduce, paint or pierce our body, it is simply never enough: that source of worth we’ve relied on to feel good about ourselves or attractive to a man, washes off in the bath, grows septic with infection, gains weight with a holiday or long-term medication, disfigures with illness, or simply fades and wrinkles with age. And time after time we’re left feeling inadequate, unattractive, unwanted, incapable, ashamed and unworthy, all because we’re sourcing our identity from the wrong place.

You cover illness – both physical and mental – and what effect it can have on our sense of self. What did you own journey with illness teach you about your sense of self-worth, and what did you learn from the other women whose stories you include?

Some of what I learned from other women is included in the book, but as for my own sense of self with my health issues, the key thing I was reminded of was: Who is in control of my life; Who knows my first and last breath, Who determines my days, and Whose love and care for me through painful symptoms and anxious appointments, is of far greater value to me than what I can do or how I appear.

Why do you think we seem to measure success in how we compare to others? How can we combat that?

We’ve been comparing ourselves against others since the beginning of time; it must be a part of our fallen nature, instead of just comparing ourselves with God and pursuing His goals for us (remember Cain and Abel, Esau and Jacob… in fact, Satan tempted Eve to compare her wisdom with God’s, and look what that made her do!).

But making comparisons is a lose-lose conundrum. Compare and then feel better than others spawns ungodly pride and potentially feeds a brash ego; compare and then feel lesser than others and you start believing you’re worthless, a failure, unattractive… and/or you grow bitter and resentful and nurse a critical spirit.  But compare yourself only to the person God created you to be and the best of the potential He has called you to pursue, and you’ve got reason to get out of bed each day, reassurance when you fail that God is for you and will help you try again, and nothing short of immense gratitude when you hit your God-given goal.

The image used throughout the book is that of a mirror – that Jesus is the only one who offers us a mirror that reflects our true image – who we are meant to be, unlike the cultural mirrors that reflect back to us that we are not worthy. How did you come to understand the truth of Jesus’ mirror in your own life?

That happened over time as my personal relationship with God developed; as I rooted my heart and not just my head belief in His love. A fundamental key, however, was engaging with the Bible – not just reading it, but getting it right inside me where it’s living power could do its work; and then, responding to it.

Do you truly believe we can learn to be content in God in the midst of anything life throws at us? How do we do that if so?

It’s a tough one. I’m constantly challenged by the messages I put out there about God’s truth, and how a westernised view can be so different to someone who has lost home, family and work, say, in Syria. All I know is that Paul found contentment in all circumstances – and it doesn’t take much reading of the New Testament to learn just how awful and tough his life often was (shipwreck, stoning almost to death, 40 lashes, starving, homeless a lot of the time… I could go on!)

So contentment in God is a truth that needs to be taught, but also in today’s context, and I know from reading books and articles by individuals who have suffered immensely in countries where the Christian faith is persecuted, that they too learned that same spiritual contentment as Paul did, in the dire confines of prison.

I’ve certainly never suffered to those extremes, but this promise is for me too, and I’ve had to ‘learn’ it during seasons of life that I found disheartening, in times when God prompted me to make one choice when I’d have much preferred making another, when my physical health took an unexpected dive and the future was uncertain, and in periods of grief for loved ones.

As for the how, I can only pass on what I have learned from Paul:

‘I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ….I want to know Christ…’ Philippians 3:8,10

It’s that ‘knowing’ Jesus, and living out the belief that He truly is our everything, that we ‘learn to be content whatever the circumstances.’ Philippians 4:11

What are some of the real nuggets of wisdom you’ve discovered for truly reflecting Jesus rather than giving in to our vulnerabilities and inadequacies?

Self-assurance, inner poise, a quiet confidence, security, peace with oneself and with others. It’s awesome to be released from a withered way of living life, especially when you’ve endured it for many years; to be freed from a mental and emotional prison which has locked you up from Christ’s promise of ‘life to the full’ (John 10:10) in the darkness of fear and debilitation.

Dotted about the book are wonderful quotes from women celebrating the role models in their own life that have inspired them and helped them see past the shallowness of looks. How important do you think it is for us all to have those women who champion and encourage us?  

I think role models are a gift and inspiration provided we don’t idolise them ie provided we don’t set ourselves up to try to be their clone. Be inspired by characteristics you admire, but ask yourself how that might helpfully shape your own life within parameters of your own skills, experiences, opportunities, background etc.

What other writing projects do you have planned?

Aside of a set of Bible notes coming out next February (alongside yours) and a novel still looking for an agent, I am currently working on my next book, which is due out sometime next year…watch this space; too early to unveil the plot!

Anne is the author of a number of Christian books and has written a wide variety of Bible-study notes and magazine articles. She also speaks at conferences and in churches around the country, with a passion to disciple Christians in their ongoing walk with God.

Married to Neil, Anne is also Granny to her daughter’s three young boys. To relax she loves to read, grow her own vegetables, hike the hills, and, when time allows, cook special meals for close friends. But she still dreams of becoming a bee-keeper!

You can follow Anne’s musings on Twitter @AnneLeTiss, Instagram @anneletissier, or take a look at her website: www.anneletissier.com

 

On wearing masks in ministry

After far too long a break, I am delighted to welcome another guest contributor to the Stories of authenticity blog series. Mark Meynell has written an incredibly honest, and exceedingly helpful, book on his own experiences of facing depression. He has kindly provided an excerpt from the book here, which looks at when it is appropriate to wear a mask – and when it is really unhelpful to do so. It is an interesting discussion around the whole subject of mask-wearing, particularly for those leading some kind of ministry, and he handles it with real wisdom and insight. He introduces the excerpt below:

I have been in Christian ministry for 25 years. And in common with practically everyone else alive, I have worn masks. Not literally, of course. At times, a mask has been the means of self-preservation, at others a ministry preserver – and even an act of generosity and service. In other words, masks can and should have their place. To some extent. But they are also detrimental to psychological wellbeing and community life. They conceal rather than reveal. They can do even more damage to the wearer than they do to those who only encounter the external presentation.

I found myself thinking a great deal about this as I wrote my book on the experience of depression in ministry. I realised it was a recurring theme and that I was never going to improve until I faced up to what I had instinctively done since before even becoming a teenager, and then dealt with it. So here are some of those thoughts from the early pages of the book, taking us back to the glory days of ancient Greek theatre…

Imagine some great theatre, a monumental seashell carved out of a Mediterranean mountainside. At the base of this banked semicircle is the circular stage, backed by a great wall of doors, alcoves and openings on multiple levels, from which actors playing gods might intervene in the drama. All the main action takes place on the central stage, however. The genius of these buildings is that the sightlines and acoustics are perfect, despite being open to the elements. An entire audience can see and hear everything. Because all the actors wear identical clay masks, however, the one skill they never require is facial expression. Their movements are rigidly stylized as well. Instead, they must rely entirely on the script and their vocal skills to move audiences to tears or laughter. But this they consistently achieve.

The purpose of these masks was to focus an audience’s attention on the charactersand not the actors bringing them to life. The effect, I suppose, is a bit like movie stars hidden by layers of prosthetics or digital animation. The mask also reminds the audience that this is make-believe; it is pretence; it is in fact a lie. All acting is lying. But here is the great paradox of drama: if these lies are acted convincingly, truth (whether about reality or relationships) gets conveyed powerfully.

We are perfectly familiar with this, and, in our entertainment-obsessed world, we applaud those who can pull off the widest range of parts.

But should we always be so impressed? The ancient Greek word for actor was hypocritēs (ὑποκρῐτής), which, at first, only implied someone who explained or interpreted something. But by New Testament times, it was more negative. It suggested someone who was untrustworthy. They pretended to be one thing while underneath being something else; they presented a good front to mask their reality.

Of course, it needs to be recognized that this is not always negative. Temporary masks have their place, and nearly all of us make use of them. On occasion, it may even be right to use them. We really shouldn’t blurt out every thought that pops into our heads. That usually does more harm than good. Self- control is an important virtue, and so this type of mask is as much for others’ protection as anything else.

At other times, it is neither appropriate nor necessary for those around us to be aware of every vulnerability or anxiety. A mask is thus a form of protection, necessary to shield emotional wounds from being aggravated, or from being exposed at an inappropriate moment. It is an act, in some ways – ‘I’m fine,’ we say – a pretence that all is well. That is not a lie as such, but an act of self-defence. As one good friend remarked to me, ‘fine’ can actually serve as an acronym, standing for ‘Feelings Inside Not Expressed!’. It is an understandable mask, and if we never made use of it, we would probably never escape those after-church conversations that already seem interminable enough.

MINISTRY MASKS

This mask is particularly important for those in Christian ministry. As we seek to pastor and love others, especially the vulnerable, there are times when we must swallow our pride or irritation, ignore our own needs or pressing concerns, for the sake of the urgent or important. We must show consistency and integrity, of course. But when I climb into a pulpit, I may be feeling 1,001 different things, most of which would be irrelevant, inappropriate or unhelpful to mention.We have a duty to teach what is true and healthy, even if we might wish to be miles away. We act out of Christian duty, which invariably conflicts with our emotions and passions. This is true even in normal family life, where it might be necessary to park a discussion or argument because of something more pressing (such as friends coming for a meal). Unsurprisingly, it is necessary in upfront ministry as well. This is not avoidance, but finding the right moment (unless, of course, we don’t return to it).

In the strictest sense, that could be defined as hypocrisy. We are pretending. We are acting. But because of the complexity of human nature, there is a sense in which none of us can avoid being hypocritical to some degree. None of us ever has perfectly aligned motives or desires. Even Jesus found himself in great conflict in the Garden of Gethsemane – his deepest fears were militating against his determination to do his Father’s will (Matthew 26:36–46).

What matters, I suppose, is how regularly this happens when doing our duty. No-one can be expected to hold in constant balance their duty and passions, their beliefs, feelings and actions, their words and deeds. Being ‘out of sync’ is not hypocrisy – only the pretence of always being ‘in sync’ is. And this is where we begin to home in on what Jesus was so critical of. He lambasted the Pharisees for their claims to perfection and their subsequent self-righteous contempt for others:

You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. (Matthew 23:27–28)

WHEN THE MASK BECOMES A HABIT

The issue is how honest we are about our weakness and flaws. Self-defence masks are like that. They are not Pharisaical, they rarely claim perfection, nor do they make people self- righteous. The problem comes when wearing them becomes a habitual, or even permanent, way of being. This was what happened to me. Since childhood, I had developed self-defence habits that kept me going temporarily, but which proved unsustainable long-term. It was as if the ancient actor’s mask had become glued to my face. I played a part – of the approachable, sorted, though emotionally up and down, friend, and later pastor. So, for example, after I first mentioned my depression diagnosis in public (during a question and answer session at a church retreat), a friend came up to me in shock. She remarked that had she known there was a church staff member with this diagnosis, she would never have guessed it was me.

But this mask was artificial. It concealed reality and inhibited support. Nobody who’s ‘fine’ needs help . . . right? So the mask inevitably started cracking, revealing that things really were not right.

Mark Meynell is Europe & Caribbean Director for Langham Preaching (a programme of Langham Partnership), and a part-time Chaplain in Whitehall. He is married to Rachel and they have two (almost) grown up children, He is the author of a number of books on various subjects, and is currently working on his first novel. This excerpt is taken from When Darkness Seems My Closest Friend, published by IVP.

 

 

 

Learning to trust God for our children – again!

As soon as he came out of school my heart sank. His shoulders had dropped, and his whole demeanour oozed sadness…

That was back in July and became the start of an exceedingly difficult few months with our son, who is 9. We had been told that the two classes in his year group were going to be mixed up for the new academic year, but had been assured that friendship groups would be taken into consideration.

He had just found out that he didn’t have any of his three close friends in his class. And he was literally devastated.

What followed was weeks of crying himself to sleep and he ended that school year a different boy – less confident, no longer wanting to go back to school, questioning the point of prayer. His behaviour over the summer holidays we’ve just had was challenging in a way we’d not seen before too.

He really struggled to deal with the change emotionally – and we struggled to parent him through it at times.

TURNING TO PRAYER

As soon as we had heard that the classes were going to be mixed up, we had prayed – with, and for – our son. We had talked about new opportunities for friendships, and also reassured him that God was with him and that the Bible says: “we know that all things work together for good to them that love God” (Romans 8:28, KJV), which means we can trust God – whatever the outcome.

So when the news rocked him to the core, of course we started asking God why it had happened – because he was asking us and we didn’t have any simple answers. We also wondered whether we should complain, or simply trust that the right course of action had happened.

It was tricky navigating this whole aspect, because we’d said to our son he could trust God would hold him, and work things out in a way that would ensure God’s purposes for his life, and yet here he was faced with what he viewed as a truly negative turn of events.

I am quite an emotional person, and when something happens that either upsets my family, or me, I can find it hard to hear from God about it. So I did struggle and, in the end, simply asked God whether he would show me if it was right to talk to the school. An opportunity naturally arose, but it didn’t change the decision.

FACING THE NEW TERM

We prayed together the night before our son went back to school and his prayers revealed that he had grasped the understanding that he needed to give it a chance. While he was fairly resigned to the situation as he travelled into school, I think perhaps I found it more difficult waving him off than he did going in!

And in those first few days I saw God’s hand at work, for both my son and me. He was able to play with his friends at break and lunchtime, enjoyed being in a class with his new teacher and even came out one day saying that it was a nicer class overall!

On the first day, his teacher was on the gate when I dropped him off so I was able to chat to him. And the next day his teaching assistant was there. She has been with him for a few years, and was able to reassure me that she thought it was the best thing that could have happened to him. That his best friend, who has consistently been competition for him in a good way (they’ve helped motivate each other), had actually started becoming a distraction in the last year. So she felt it was good they had been split up.

I immediately felt flooded with peace when I heard this – and also felt a little nudge in my spirit. I had had an inkling that there may have been something like that behind the decision; whether that was simply my parental instinct or me hearing from God I can’t say for definite, but in that moment I certainly felt a confirmation that God has been looking out for our son all along.

GOD IS ALWAYS AT WORK

Of course, I know the truth that God loves my kids even more than I do, and that part of my job as a parent is to learn to entrust them more and more to him, but I also know that is a work in progress and I don’t always get it right (and it’s easier said than done sometimes).

I’m so glad our son is settling into school well so far, but I know there will still be challenges ahead. While he may be throwing himself into tackling the new situation at school head on, his behaviour at home still isn’t great and we are navigating the whole ‘disciplining with lashings of grace’ right now.

But I am really grateful for the glimpse of seeing God at work in our son’s life – and I know I definitely needed the reminder to trust God with my kids (especially as the oldest one has just become a teenager! 😉 )

 

 

 

Remember why you started dating

I am so pleased to be guest blogging over on Tiffany Montgomery’s marriage and motherhood blog Hope & Joy in Christ as part of her ’31 Ways to Reclaim Joy in a Christian Marriage Series’, taking place throughout July.

Here is a little taster:

‘What was it that attracted you to him in the first place?’

That was the first question I was asked when I sat in a room with my husband, facing a husband and wife counselling team.

I was taken aback. It wasn’t something that I had thought about – for years. I was only there having made the decision to go back to our marriage and try and work our issues through. But I was at the point of wrestling with God as to whether I would ever be able to feel love for my husband again – and now I was being asked what had originally drawn me to him!

I found it hard to answer for a while. But I eventually did – a bit through gritted teeth at the time. And then, once my husband answered the question about me, it was followed by another: ‘What did you like to do together when you first went out on dates?’ When we had both answered, they then set our ‘homework’ for that week – to choose one thing out of what we had said and go and do it.

To read the rest of the article, please click here. On that page, you can also enter the giveaway for a chance to win a copy of my book Taking Off the Mask 🙂

My experience of divorce – unmasked

I am delighted to welcome Kathey Batey to the Unmasked: stories of authenticity blog series today. For the last 12 years Kathey has worked with those going through divorce, as a mediator and by running support groups. But she has her own personal story, which she has bravely agreed to share here. The blog is long, but I’ve kept it long because I think her honesty will help others. 

I have been asked in numerous radio and television interviews about my personal story of divorce because I wrote the book series Suddenly Single and I have worked with hundreds of individuals and groups going through divorce. I skirt around my own story and try to “clean it up” as much as possible. I do this for a couple of reasons: one reason is to shield my children from the “grit” of the divorce, and another because my former spouse is deceased and I have no intention of dishonoring him. But in protecting or cleaning up my story, it doesn’t honestly relate to yours. I want to relate to you because chances are your story is ugly, hurtful and surreal to you. Mine is to me. I’m going unmasked, in the hopes it will relate to you and give you hope. Here is the unmasked version. I tell it only for you to know that you are not alone.

I stood in the kitchen and I asked God to hold me. It was the second time he left. Five days earlier, the day the divorce was supposed to be final, he asked if he could come back. He wanted our family back. I embraced the thought and I embraced him. He came back, to the same issues we had before. “You’re just not what I want”, he told me numerous times, I’m not sure how one responds to that statement, as if I could change my core self. I couldn’t, and at this point in my failing marriage where he was dissatisfied, unaccepting of me, being unable to meet his expectations, I wouldn’t. I had shut down years before because I felt I could do nothing right, so I retreated to that cave again. In that painful cave of hiding, God held me. 

 Satan was deceiving him and destroying our family. How could he buy into the lie there was something better, more exciting than what he had here? We had a family, three fabulous teenagers, who never rebelled and were a joy to watch grow and become adults. They were active in sports with great friends who made our home the gathering place for teens. We had reunions, church groups and church services on our ranch of eight acres, a pond in the middle of the property with fish and wildlife. The woods were filled with wildflowers of Trillium and Jack in the Pulpit. It was heaven on earth to me.  

I wasn’t the perfect wife. I was not his mother. She was the perfect housekeeper, the great cook. She never struggled with putting on extra pounds. Where is the maturity when we realize we are grown up and our spouses won’t be our parent? In all, my loving mother-in-law seemed the perfect wife and mother and I loved her dearly. She was very good to me. But she died of alcoholism, having been married to an alcoholic abusive partner. She didn’t know how to stand up for herself and she took her pain inward.

 In that kitchen where my soul plummeted to the bottom of the cave, God caught me. It wasn’t a superman swoop, but it was a sudden fullness and comfort in my heart that contrasted where I was at that moment and showed me I was not alone. I would need to depend on that Spirit in the days ahead. This was one of the many dramatic times in my divorce.

I remember to this day shortly after he left again, standing in the bathroom getting ready for work, listening to the song by Pam Thumb, “Life is hard, the world is cold, you’re barely young and then you’re old. Every fallen tear is always understood, life is hard, but God is good.” That song spoke my heart, life was hard and the world is cold. And I certainly had those tears, but God was so good to me. Flashback in that same bathroom when my husband came to the door once, and I slipped down my nightgown and he turned and walked away. Rejection is painful.

THE NEED FOR SUPPORT

Rejection brings it’s own grief. I questioned everything while going through my divorce: my value as a woman, my value as a person, my value as a life. I could go into those unhealthy thoughts easily because of his perception of me was degrading during marriage and listening to the words of rejection can put you into a dark spiral. But time passed and perception was gained. I thank God for putting the voices and the people He did in my life to walk through this with me. They were not profound, deep, directive voices; they were co-workers, pastors, church friends with simple kindnesses, compassion and listening ears. They related to me, they normalised my trauma. This is why I feel so strongly about how the church ministers to those who are divorcing. It is because I saw where the church was there for me, and I also saw where they were absent for me in my deepest time of need.  

It is mind-boggling, yet necessary to make the mind shift that the person you trusted with your life for twenty years, confided life decisions and submitted your body and soul to, has become an unsafe person. I struggled with it, as those in my support groups do. It does something to your mind and sanity when you try to wrap your head around that fact; it is indescribable, ironic and adds anger to the betrayal of the moment. To hear lawyers, judges and strangers get into your personal business; habits, priorities and what seems your underwear drawer, send you reeling! One of the reasons I believe in group so much, is they can walk through the cruel legal process of divorce. You don’t know who is on your side or who is there to rack up hours of legal fees.  

It is surreal to look around your established home of twenty years of marriage and see all of your belongings and your life on the table for bargaining. It is so unsettling, disorienting and bewildering. I’m reminded of my own experience every time I hold mediations and watch people divide their lives into two piles.

WHEN LIFE BECOMES A SOAP OPERA

Just when you think there is a moment of sanity or calm, things happen that sound like a soap opera, trashy episodes that you would watch in disgust, now come part of your story…

Sitting at the table with my daughter and my mother eating lunch, the phone rang. It was a woman, whose voice I did not recognize. She was brief and to the point of her purpose for the call. “I just wanted you to know, I’ve been sleeping with your husband the last six months.”

I had lived my life trying to be a woman and family of class. Raised in an alcoholic home, poverty was only because alcohol got more prominence than the children. My mother worked as a waitress to care and provide for us. My father bought drinks for his baseball team, his golf league or stole things to bring into the home. In contrast was mom, hard working, sacrificing everything for her family. I never went without because of mom. Dad, I understand more in hindsight, was a WWII vet, who had issues of his own to deal with after serving in the military and the atrocities he witnessed. He died when I was 13. Truth be told, he was my hero in many ways, but also a figure that terrified me.

On the way to a sporting event for one of my children, I went into Wal-Mart to pick up something for the kids, and was surprised to see him and the woman. I encountered her. This was my soap opera moment that I would never encourage people to carry out. Confrontation is dangerous in many ways.  At that time, I was naive and angry and I walked up to her and without emotion stated slowly, “You are a cheap imitation of me.” I waited for no reply. I left the premises. I was the wife, I was the honored one, the favored one in a holy position. I will not throw that away as I had been discarded. I will take claim of that God-ordained place.

KNOWING YOUR VALUE

Telling people you are divorcing is so difficult. You know there is no gentle way to say it. You know when you do you will cry when you start talking about it. Those feelings are normal and difficult to swallow (even though you try to swallow the tears). I chose only close friends and family first and then I was better able to speak it without the tears and later as stated fact.

 Years have passed, perspective has been gained – as I purposely and intentionally worked on my healing. Today, I hear the heartbreak of hundreds of people, men and women. When they are wide eyed in shock from the betrayal of their mate, I understand.When they feel their loss of value and ask the question, “Why wasn’t I worth fighting for?” I understand. You are, I was.

Satan is at work to destroy families, because he knows how vital they are to life. But God is the God of second chances. Jesus is our second chance. Now is time to see your value, and to discover the beautiful life God has for you. We are secure in him. Even in the most insecure times, we are secure in Him. He is whom you hold onto. He will guide you through. He will guide you and reveal to you things you never knew or understood. For many, it is the truth that sometimes the reason for divorce has nothing to do with you, sometimes spouses have issues you cannot fix nor be the answer to. It takes years to gain the perspective that helps you see your life clearly. Not saying years will ever make it right, but years make it clearer and more manageable.

My determination from that day he left the second time and since is: my story and my life will not end like this. I will not be the victim, even though so much was taken, wronged and a drastic contrast to the life we were living. What can you do with such trash, pain and injustice? You hand it over to God and say, “hold me, lead me, give me wisdom for the path I take.” God isn’t finished with you. The best is yet to be. Over the past twenty+ years God has been the greatest husband to me. He is the Provider, the Protector (even from myself), the Lover of my soul. Learn to know Him in this way.

This is part of my divorce unmasked; I could write a book…(Oh wait, I did!) on more of the details. It is real and it is messy. Just like your divorce. This is a painful, yet powerful time in your life. Use it wisely; it will make you or destroy you. I marvel at God’s patience and how He always shows up in my groups and in my life and takes the unmasked, messy moments and somehow restores and chooses to empower us through them.

Kathey Batey is the creator of Divorce Support Anonymous and author of the Suddenly Single book series published by David C. Cook. She is a domestic mediator and has held support groups for people going through divorce. Connect with her on FaceBook page Divorce Support Anonymous or her website www.DivorceSupportAnonymous.com