the inner toddler

I like to think of myself as being fairly laid back. Most of the time I am able to reflect calmly and intelligently on events and then respond appropriately (possibly). But I know that when I am tired I get grumpy more easily and little things that would not bother me normally now irritate me intensely.

Normally if my phone is not working properly I calmly resolve the problem (by turning it off and on again). But if I am tired and ratty all of a sudden the problem becomes much more difficult to resolve. I repeat the same process on the phone, somehow expecting that doing the same thing will bring a different result (d’oh!!).

One of the problems with this is that I know that I am acting irrationally and that I have moved up the grumpy index but I can’t stop myself. It’s almost as if I have to get to the full toddler strop before I can calm down and revert to adult again. My wife knows me well enough that she can tell me that I am being silly and to calm down, and sometimes that works, but the more tired I am the harder it is to stop.

grumpy index

In order to prevent the world being full of stroppy adult toddlers and prevent global catastrophes from happening on the whim of someone who’s not over-tired God has built in to us a rhythm of life that includes sleep and recreation. We tamper with or ignore these at our peril. It’s not a sign of superhuman-ness to exist on a couple of hours sleep a night. It’s not a commendable trait to work 24/7 and never take any time to rest, relax and be refreshed. The inevitable outcome is that you will end up behaving like a toddler – selfish, prone to irrational outbursts, ignoring the effect you have on others and demanding attention.

So how do we reverse the climb up the grumpy index? Build in regular relaxation, find things that make you laugh, find people who energise you and whose company you enjoy, maybe even take yourself off to the naughty step to calm down a bit… and as you realise that the inner toddler has taken control ask your heavenly Father to calm you down and renew his Spirit’s presence in you.

Be blessed, be a blessing

there and back again

As a child I used to love the animated short stories on TV from Trumpton, Chigley and Camberwick Green. If you’ve never seen them then find them and watch them – they have a charm and innocence that is special. Many of the characters had their own rhymes or songs that accompanied their actions, especially if they were travelling somewhere. “Pugh, Pugh, Barney, McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble and Grubb” accompanied the firemen sliding down the pole in order to get into their fire engine, for example. In Chigley most episodes involved Lord Belborough driving his own personal steam train to help someone out (just go with the plot, don’t get all Network Rail on us!). His journeys would be accompanied by the song that began, “Time flies by when you’re the driver of a a train and you ride on the footplate there and back again…” That song came into my mind today, but let me try to explain why:

One of the things I am encouraged to do in order to aid my recovery following the surgery earlier in the year is to go for walks. I have tried to do this, gradually increasing the length of the walks around the estate on which we live. Some days the walks have been longer than others – it depends on how much energy I have in my legs.

On one of my walks with my wife a while back we started walking up a slope towards some local shops (I had expressed that one of my targets was to be able to walk to the shops). I was surprised at how much steeper the slope felt than I had expected and, about two-thirds of the way up, Sally pointed out that I had stopped talking and asked if I was okay. Disappointingly I had to admit that my legs felt really weak and that I was not going to get up the slope. So we turned around and walked home.

I was determined I was not going to be defeated by it. So a few days later we tried again and, to my amazement, about two-thirds of the way up the slope my legs felt really weak and I had to turn around again.

Now the slope had become my nemesis. I was not going to be defeated by something as simple as a slope.

As you can see from this photo it doesn’t look that tough, but it was too much for my weakened legs. I set myself the target of being able to walk to the local shops that were the other side of the slope. I even set that as a goal within the cardiac rehab process that I had just begun.

Frustratingly I had another setback shortly after beginning the cardiac rehab process which meant I had to put it on hold, but the slope was still there in the back of my mind, taunting me. So a short while later Sally and I set off with the express purpose of conquering the slope. It was hard work and my legs felt like jelly at the top, but I made it. I didn’t have enough in me to complete the journey to shops but the slope had been defeated.

Last weekend I decided that it was time to show the slope once and for all who was the boss. So, having arranged for Sally to meet me at the shops with her car, I set off. At the top of the slope my legs felt like they were on fire, but I kept going and got to the shops. I was elated – so much so that I couldn’t stop myself posting the achievement on Facebook. Lots of my friends very kindly and encouragingly ‘liked’ the post and wrote encouraging comments below the post, which was really a blessing. But in my heart I felt as if I hadn’t really completed the mission. I had only gone one way.

So this morning I set off to the shops again with no backup driver. I needed some tablets from the pharmacy in the parade of shops so that was my motivation. But this time I was going to walk back home afterwards. As previously by the time I reached the top of the slope my legs were burning. I paused to catch my breath at a lamppost at the top of the slope and then pressed on to the shops as planned. I got my tablets and set off back home.

Now the good thing about slopes is that while they may prove to be an obstacle in one direction, they are an assistance in the other direction. The upward slope that inhibited me became a downward slope that made my walk back home manageable and I arrived home tired but triumphant. I had achieved my goal. There’s a lot more to be done in terms of rehab, but it felt like a big step (or lots of little steps) in the right direction. There and back again – without the aid of Lord Belborough’s train or my wife’s car!

And it also made me ponder – what can feel like an obstacle and a difficulty when we look at it from one direction can prove to be a blessing and assistance from another. For example: my unexpected need for a heart operation and subsequent convalescence has been hard to cope with physically but it has also revealed to me an amazing level of friendship, support, prayers and encouragement that I had not expected. And while it’s taking longer than I had anticipated it’s also giving me an opportunity to live life at a slower pace and appreciate the many blessings I have. I see life differently now because of what I have been through. I definitely would not be so insensitive as to suggest that everything bad that happens has an equally positive side to it, but (often with hindsight) if we look for them some blessings are there too and often manifest themselves in other people. They may not make the bad stuff tolerable, but it’s amazing how bright even the smallest pinprick of light looks in the darkest places.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

the right time to change

person wearing leather wrist watch
Photo by Jonathan Miksanek on Pexels.com (not my wristwatch or wrist!)

Yesterday I had another of my regular visits to hospital to see various specialists and also have some more blood tests. I would have thought by now they’d know whether or not my blood had passed the test and was fully qualified as blood, but apparently not.

I’ve described my progress following my heart surgery as ‘two steps forwards and one step back’. That adds up to progress overall, but it’s frustrating when I am in a ‘step back’ phase, as I am now. The appointments yesterday were positive and hopeful but the cardiac rehab process is still on hold until at least next week, which means my return to ‘normal life’ (whether it ever was normal is debatable) is on hold too.

Anyway, that little diversion by way of an update distracted me from my reflection. In order to test my blood they have to take some of it away to a laboratory and this (inevitably) involves someone jabbing me with a needle. Yesterday my veins decided that they had had enough of being speared so for a while they refused to give up any blood. The doctor who was impaling me tried five times before he finally managed to hit a gusher.

The five attempts were not without cost. I suspect that my hand is going to resemble a rainbow soon with the bruising that is ominously threatening behind a mask of off-yellow discolouration. And my wrist is really sore as it took the brunt of the assault. That would not be a problem normally, but it’s my left wrist.

I am a conventional watch-wearer, normally locating it on my left wrist. But because of the aftermath of needlegate yesterday it’s too uncomfortable to wear my watch on my left wrist at the moment, so it’s located on my right wrist.

“Big deal,” you might (rightly) think. But I am finding that this minor adjustment feels really strange. The watch feels heavy on my right wrist. It feels strange, unusual, even uncomfortable on my right wrist and I am very conscious of it whereas on my left I rarely think about my watch unless I am consulting it to discover the time.

And it struck me afresh how difficult most of us humans find change. There are some people who embrace change and seems to struggle with regularity and consistency, but most of us (I reckon) find change uncomfortable, unusual and strange. We are acutely aware of what has changed and how different it looks and feels and we don’t like it. So we become ‘change-averse’. We can even fear change because it might not be something we like, and moreover we are usually not fully in control because changes can bring unexpected consequences.

If you want an example of a change-averse organisation then look at most churches. Even those with brand-new premises will be doing things in the same way they have done them for decades (or longer). That’s not a criticism, maintaining links with the past is important and for some people to reconnect with church they need to find something familiar. But the change-averseness that I am thinking of is the knee-jerk reaction against any proposals or actions that threaten ‘the way we’ve always done things’.

Leaderships need to take some responsibility for this: introducing possible change is an art form and should be done with grace, patience and discernment. Grace – recognising that for some people this will be traumatic – patience – realising that the majority of the church has not been on the same journey as the leadership and it will take some time for them to catch up – and discernment – receiving and weighing responses that are given and sifting them to find out whether God has hidden any pearls of wisdom in the field of unhappiness. Possible change that is well-introduced, well-led and adaptably implemented can bless everyone and bring them together. The opposite is also true.

And leaderships must be open to the possibility that they have heard God wrongly and that the proposed change is not what he wants. Humility is still a virtue isn’t it?

But it’s not all down to the leadership. The rest of us have to recognise that the way things are done in church can become a sort of spiritual security-blanket. We are comfortable with the way things are (why do you think we are part of that church?) and locate our spiritual well-being as an aspect of our comfortableness. If something threatens that then we don’t like it.

When I am tempted to hide my head under my spiritual security-blanket I need to remind myself of a few things:

  • My spiritual security is in my relationship with Jesus not in the church I attend.
  • Jesus embraced, introduced and inspired change – re-read a Gospel and see how much he changed and how much he spoke about change.
  • God, while unchanging, has put change into the rhythm of life (the seasons) and through his prophets says things like, “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”
  • Even if I am uncomfortable with change I should look to see where God is in all of this, not seek to impose my own preferences (thinly disguised as ‘thus saith the Lord’) on others.

So for the time being (pun intended) I shall continue to wear my watch on my right hand and allow it to remind me not only of the time but also that change, while uncomfortable, can also be beneficial.

I have some questions…

ask blackboard chalk board chalkboard
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

There are times when I read what another Christian has written or said and I wonder whether I am reading the same Bible as them because I can’t justify their behaviour based on what I read in my Bible.

Now I realise that in writing this bloggage I am opening myself up to an accusation that I am making judgements about other people, and that’s something Jesus said we should not do. So I am writing this in the form of four sets of open questions based on my observations rather than accusations against anyone in particular. And I am writing this to Christians – the rest of you can relax…

I ask these questions of myself as much as anyone else and if I am being honest I am uncomfortable with some of my own answers – as always I am NOT suggesting that I live a fully-sorted life as a follower of Jesus. But I want to be open to his Spirit’s transformational prompting.

  1. Where in the Bible does it say that it’s right to use unpleasant, vitriolic, and hateful language against someone with whom you disagree? Doesn’t the Bible say that the way people will know we are followers of Jesus by the way that we love one another? How can it be right that Jesus said that the greatest commandment was to love God and the second one was to love others, yet some comments that Christians have posted online about fellow-believers and some behaviour between Christians appear to be devoid of love and full of hate? And how are some of the hideous comments made against those who don’t claim a Christian faith showing them what God’s love and grace are like?
  2. Where does it say that it’s okay to condemn someone for interpreting the Bible differently from you by denouncing them as ‘unbiblical’ (which presumably means that the denouncer has absolute confidence that their interpretation is entirely ‘biblical’ and there’s no chance they could be wrong)? Wasn’t Jesus regarded as ‘unbiblical’ in his day? Where does the Bible tell us that we should consider ourselves better than others, using our superiority to tell them how and why they are wrong and we are right?
  3. Why do Christians spend so much energy arguing about relatively trivial things like doctrinal differences and not spend as much time and energy tackling poverty, injustice and conflict? Jesus spoke much more about the use of and love of money than he did about doctrine didn’t he?
  4. Given how much Christians have been forgiven, and how much Jesus said we should forgive, how come some of us find it so difficult to apologise to other Christians when we are wrong and ask for forgiveness? Is admitting we are wrong so difficult?

I realise that this is rather an incendiary post, and it REALLY isn’t my intention to have a go at anyone in particular. My hope is that this little bloggage might just help us (Christians) to be more aware of our own behaviour and open us up to God’s Spirit changing us to become more like the Jesus we follow.

Be blessed, be a blessing

judging

So there I was again, sat in the hospital waiting area ahead of an appointment. From my vantage point (and over the top of a cup of coffee) I could see one of the designated smoking areas.

It does feel somewhat incongruous that a hospital would set aside an area for people to smoke… But better than it happening all over the site I guess.

Anyway, as I watched I saw one chap in a hospital gown (thankfully he had trousers on) who was accompanied by two police officers. My first thought was to wonder what crime he’d committed. But then I realised that was jumping to conclusions: he could have been a victim, or a witness, or even a fellow police officer. Why did I jump to the conclusion I did?

It made me realise afresh how easy it is to pre-judge people. And that’s etymologically and philosophically where prejudice has its root.

Please God help me not to judge other people and jump to conclusions about them.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

not from here

There’s an ancient story of a businessman who got lost in the country lanes of North Devon. His supersatnav in his car was no help. Eventually he came across a farmer leaning on a gate and he stopped his luxury car in front of the farmer and pushed the button to lower the window.

“Excuse me, please can you tell me the way to Exeter?” asked the businessman.

The farmer thought for a long time and then said, “If I were g’win to Exeter I wouldn’ start from ‘ere.”

I was reminded of that story this week as I began a formal process of cardiac rehab. I had an introduction interview and was wondering whether I was so far out of shape that the physio would tell me we couldn’t start from where I was.

Instead, however, she was incredibly encouraging and positive. She has seen enough cardiac surgery victims shuffle into the process to be confident of positive outcomes and significant improvement through the course. And she gave me that reassuring sense of confidence too. She asked me my goals. When I told her what they were she told me that they were achievable.

In life we can only start from where we are. We might hope to be in a different place physically, emotionally, spiritually or geographically but we have to start where we are.

I find it helps immensely to remind myself that God always starts with me where I am (even if I am in the wrong place). He might want new / different for me but he always starts where I am and gently encourages me forwards.

He does that through good, wise friends, through engaging with my own thought processes, through what I read in the Bible, through surprising circumstances and sometimes through complete strangers.

And with that encouragement and a confidence-raising awareness that millions of people in history have trusted him we step forward together.

Be blessed, be a blessing

it makes no sense

Many of you will be thinking that this title could apply to almost anything I post online. But I want to offer it as a different way of looking at things.

There’s a passage in the Bible that says:

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

These are some of the final words in Paul’s letter the the new Christians in Philippi. They follow the instruction to pray in all circumstances. It’s important not to lose sight of that fact so we’ll turn over the corner of the page here to remind us.

So… back to the passage. What does ‘transcends all human understanding’ mean? For a long time I have thought of it in terms of cognitive ability. In other words the peace is so profound and complex that human beings will never comprehend it.

A second way if looking at it would be to say that the peace is above or beyond human investigations because it’s of God.

But reflecting on my recent experiences has led me to another way of looking at the passage. What if it means, in effect, ‘peace that makes no sense in the circumstances’? Before the internet heresy hunters start lobbing virtual rocks in my direction let me try to explain.

Before, during and after all of my surgical and medical experiences I had an all-pervading sense of peace about everything. Even when I was told that my heart had to be restarted with a shock I felt great peace. The source of the peace was an absolute confidence that God was in control. Whatever happened hecwas with me. I don’t think it’s insignificant either that many people were praying for me.

But in some if the circumstances I experienced the natural human experience would be anxiety, alarm, stress, or upset. It made no sense at all in the circumstances to feel the peace that I did.

It’s important to remember where I turned over the page earlier. Remember I was talking about the context for this passage being in the context of praying in all circumstances? It’s not a scientific formula that adds up the number and variety of prayers to produce the peace.

Prayer is a fundamental part of our relationship with God. The more we involve him in many different aspects of our lives the closer we’ll be to him, the more confident we’ll be in him and the easier it is for us to experience the peace that makes no sense in the circumstances when we experience tough times.

That’s been my experience anyway.

Be blessed, be a blessing