I took a moment today to reread one of my posts from ten years ago: The Lord is my shepherd. It was a collection of thoughts about Psalm 23 and what it means to feel safe in the presence of God.
For these last ten years, I’ve come to understand that our English Bible translation uses “the Lord” as the standard translation wherever the original used YHWH. I’ve distanced myself from the idea of God being a man sitting Santa-like on his sky-throne.
Somehow distant and looking down on us all – rather than Spirit and in each and every one of us. Over these past 22 months, I realise that what has kept me going strong is the Divine presence of inner peace, abundance, and compassion, despite living in a time of turmoil.
So, today I want to share my thoughts on what it means to allow the Infinite to flow through us as Divine Wisdom, peace and love, taking thoughts and ideas from Psalm 23.
Divine Wisdom shepherds me
One of the things about sheep and shepherds is that the sheep get used to the shepherd because the shepherd lives with them twenty-four hours a day. They recognise the shepherd by the sound of their voice and the scent.
And so, as I learn to live in the presence of the Divine, I learn to listen to that still, small voice of Divine Wisdom. It’s often hushed, although occasionally, I get a brutal shake or prod!
Shepherding is about being led, surrendering to the path of Divine Will, rather than what my ego would have me do. And when I listen and surrender, I recognise that I have everything I need.
Everything I need: all the time I could possibly need to get things done, all the love and affection that my heart desires, and all the resources that I need at this moment.
In fact, when I sit with my God Box, which I made at the beginning of this year, I am in awe! All the worries and concerns that I put in my God Box were taken care of. All of them. Not a single one of those worries came to pass this year! I took all those things that were beyond my control and simply said, “you handle this for now, and when I’m ready, gently place it on my plate to take care of”.
Resting in the presence of the Divine
Most of us remember that the shepherd makes us lie down in green pastures; there’s a lushness to this imagery. In addition to having our fill – an all you can eat banquet – do you experience the softness and gentleness of lying down and resting?
How have you rested in 2021?
Are you resting gently and deeply, or do you stay up at night with worries?
To quote my previous post on Psalm 23:
“We have found both provender and peace, rest and refreshment, serenity and satisfaction.”
In addition to surrendering to rest and relaxation, we are offered our fill of living water – to be cleansed, refreshed and revitalised.
Can you allow the Infinite to flow through you?
My soul is restored and renewed
I wear myself out trying to do it all from my own strength and under my own steam. I forget – regularly – to allow Divine Presence to flow through me and empower me. But, as I let it, my soul and spirit are restored and renewed.
All I have to do is step away from staying business – holding and grasping desperately to doing it all myself.
When I’m doing it all alone, it’s empty and incomplete. My ego’s happy – for a while until it falls and fails. Then it throws a tantrum when I realise that I am not perfect and complete unless I am open to the presence of the Divine.
I am complete when I am One with Spirit. But when I allow myself to be guided by Divine Wisdom, I find myself facing anything and everything. The path takes me back to wholeness.
But it is a soft allowing and opening up. It is surrender and trusting, which I still find challenging.
How are you allowing the Divine Creator to complete you?
A time of turmoil in the world
Walking through the valley of the shadow of death
These two years have felt like a walk through the valley of the shadow of death. The foreboding of “it’s out there” could be terrifying, and yet I have discovered this fantastic, deep well within me of inner peace. One that genuinely has surpassed all my understanding.
I know, without a doubt, that we are walking through this valley. That means that there is a light at the end: there will be a moment when we are no longer under the shadow of death.
But I feel an intense peace and calm within me. I haven’t feared for myself or those I love in these two years of uncertainty. I have felt deeply protected and shielded despite all the turmoil.
Some of the changes have been harrowing – as an introvert with a slightly extroverted child, I cannot begin to explain the challenges of two years of home-schooling while working from home. And yet, this too shall pass.
And every time she says that these have been the best two years of her life, I am blown away. In my mind, I have focused on my shortcomings rather than how resilient we have both been!
We have been abundantly protected and shielded. We’ve grown and changed with the changing times.
And in so many ways, I have been miraculously comforted and found safety.
Making time for self-care
Despite the challenges of these times – the enemies that surround us – Divine Wisdom reminds me to take time out. To sit quietly and eat calmly. To enjoy the food before me.
These past two years have been about re-encountering a relationship with gratitude and pausing, especially around food. I’ve made more time cooking and sitting down to eat, with grace before meals, rather than eating on the run.
And what I’ve realised is that this has a very practical application in our digestive system: as we switch over from “fight & flight mode” to “rest and digest”. It’s a crucial physiological distinction. Divine Wisdom reminds me regularly: stop what you’re doing and just eat. It’s okay to take time for nourishing your body without multi-tasking.
I am also reminded that I have a purpose and calling – and that does not require multi-tasking either! It’s becoming more single-minded about “the one thing” and focusing my energy and attention on what I am called to be and do.
The more I follow this, I count my many blessings! My cup indeed does run over!
Guided by Divine Wisdom, with goodness & mercy watching my back
Who has your back?
We’re promised that both goodness and mercy will follow us wherever we go. Mercy sweeps along behind me, forgiving my mistakes and weaknesses, allowing me to forgive myself.
Can I let go of the guilt and shame that I’ve carried and allow it to be swept away by goodness and mercy?
The final part of Psalm 23 reminds us that we dwell forever with Divine Presence, finally reaching that place of complete Oneness with Spirit.
I belong. I am loved and cherished, with an everlasting love.
This is what it means for Divine Wisdom to be omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent.
Will you allow the Infinite to flow through you until you are One with Spirit?
Over recent weeks, in my healing journey, I have been examining my relationship with trust. It first came to my attention when I looked at my business decisions, especially mistakes that I have made over the past 20 years. But, in recent days, I noticed a pattern emerge.
The beauty of recognising patterns of behaviour is that it opens the door for change and transformation. What I’ve noticed is a swinging pendulum in my life between distrust and blind trust. This pattern has cost me thousands of dollars, as well as relationships and creating heartbreak.
It is in seeing my actions and omissions accurately that the doors open.
The truth sets us free.
Let me provide you with some concrete examples:
In my early business days, I hired a friend to run one of my companies. Because I was overwhelmed and swamped with the growth in business and hiring new staff, I failed to supervise her properly. She was struggling in getting everything done, and I wasn’t available to support her. I didn’t ask how things were going, instead choosing to focus exclusively on my own overwhelm. Unfortunately, while she was getting the client work done, she wasn’t invoicing the client for it! By the time I realised the mess in accounts receivable and payable, the client had accrued some $40,000.00 in services they hadn’t paid for. Thankfully, the client eventually paid all outstanding invoices. But it took years to get fully up to date, and I bore the financial brunt of being caught between suppliers and financing a client. When I’m overwhelmed, I shut down, dissociate from the present, and turn to blind trust.
In March 2009, I left on holiday for three weeks to New Zealand. I chose the dates based on the weather (end of summer) and flight costs (cheaper because summer holidays were over and it wasn’t yet Easter). I was overwhelmed and exhausted after restructuring staff following the 2008 markets crash. Unfortunately, March 31st is the end of tax season – which meant that my company tax returns were prepared and presented in my absence. The company accountant and external accountants included a refundable expense in “income”, an extra $54,000 in ghost income! As a result, my income tax bill that year was $27,000.00 when it should have been less than $9,000.00. But, you prepay taxes for the next year, based on the estimates of what you paid the previous year! So, not only was I hit with the current tax bill, but my estimated taxes for the next year were identical, giving me a tax credit for years to come. My blind trust created a substantial financial pinch.
I could provide you with many more examples in my professional life where I have distrusted, micro-managed and controlled every aspect of an employee’s performance, to those moments where I am overwhelmed and shut down, leading to no involvement or supervision at all.
Trust = firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something
Distrust = the feeling that someone or something cannot be relied upon.
Blind faith or blind trust: “unquestioning belief in something, even when it’s unreasonable or wrong”. I take it to mean “trust in spite of evidence to the contrary” or blindly ignoring evidence that perhaps they are undeserving of your complete trust.
How trauma informs our state of mind
Unfortunately, this pattern is not something I learned as an adult, and I’ve been using this pattern since early childhood. When I get overwhelmed, the easiest solution is to shut down and freeze, and this takes me into dissociation from the present moment and avoidance. In these cases, blind faith and trust in others become the only option, and I can’t trust myself.
Hypervigilance at the other end of the pendulum presents itself as distrust, micro-managing every situation as I attempt to control the outcome. Of course, this is exhausting, making me angry (an emotion that I was taught not to acknowledge as a child) and frustrated. To avoid anger, I would rebound into dissociation and shut down.
I never learned how to stay in the middle: in balance, calm and being alert. I struggle on so many levels with trust, and this shows up in my life on every level:
I could choose to sit in victimhood: “this is how I am, because of my childhood“. But I choose not to. I started to look at my patterns as generative learning – an opportunity to grow and change. And I share these learnings with you, because I want you to recognise that you have options and choices available to you.
As I have begun to experience inner peace, the wisdom of trust has become available.
The human experiences that break trust, building distrust
Years ago, I denied being traumatised at boarding school because I wasn’t regularly beaten and abused. Anger and speaking up would earn you a beating, being labelled a Jezebel, or having a rebellious spirit.
I avoided beatings by being “a good girl”, knowing when to shut my mouth and swallowing any anger I felt. The survival skills I learned were to shut down, dissociate, and walk away. Unfortunately, those skills are not very resourceful and helpful in my life anymore.
There are many moments that I wish I were rebellious, angry & unruly. How I wish I had been the wild child that baulked the system and stood up against injustices, daring to question unfair authority. Instead, I chose the safety and security of apathy, withdrawal and indifference. Unfortunately, as an adult, I still struggle with dealing with my anger, boundaries and injustice. As a lawyer, it’s easy to stand up for others. But I shrink instead of standing up for myself. I avoid confrontations of a personal nature, even when they would clear the air.
Through it all, I am entrenched in my independence. Of course, as I know now – hyper-independence is merely a symptom of trauma: unable to ask for help because I can’t trust others. Can I even trust myself?
Taught to obey Church leaders without question:
We had verses drummed into us, which in themselves were not wrong. But was the interpretation of these verses rightly applied?
Under no circumstances were we, children, to question those in authority because they were “appointed by God”. And if God wanted to remove them for wrongdoing, then it was merely our duty to “pray about it” rather than to do anything.
Even the hymns we sang reminded us that we were to “Trust and Obey” rather than stand up for ourselves or others. Helplessness was ingrained, and anything that was not as it “should be” was “God’s will”, and we were to endure it.
Biblical teachings: the human heart
But that wasn’t the only weapon in the arsenal of submission. In reading the below verses, repeatedly we heard: “The heart is deceitful above all things”. Divine Justice prevailing, to each according to their ways, patterns and actions received little mention. Instead, beatings were justified because our hearts were deceitful.
Those in power were above all of that.
How can I trust myself if I believe that my heart is deceitful? What relationship or trust can I build with others if they are devious and incurably sick in their hearts?
If you question what I am telling you, you lack faith. Instead, you should “pray about it” and “trust God” to solve this for you.
If the prevalent attitude about human nature is one of sin and depravity, then there is no trust.
Maureen Murdock, “The Heroine’s Journey”
Divide and conquer has worked for centuries, both within the church and politics, and it’s as quickly at work today as it always has been. Even today, we hear who to distrust and then expected to place blind trust in authority.
But blind faith means that you have no ownership of your spiritual path or will. It relieves you of responsibility, creating victimhood. And victims are powerless, easy to manipulate.
I am so grateful for learning a new way: what it means to have a healthy trust.
As much as I would like to say that my journey back to trust began with trusting Divine Presence in my life, that’s not the truth of my journey. My transformation started with an exploration of self-awareness for personal growth, and spiritual healing occurred after learning and personal development.
The first step back to trust was:
In noticing my patterns of distrust and blind trust, I could explore what healthy trust means. Emotional and spiritual healing have come together as I worked with forgiveness of myself and others.
My trust in the Divine grows as I let go of my need to micro-manage and control every tiny detail. And in living in the Spirit, I trust my insight and intuition to build relationships with others.
What does it mean to trust me, others and Divine Presence?
The elements of trust
Trust is not something we do from a place of apathy, withdrawal or dissociation. It is active and engaged: trust requires relaxed courage, curiosity, and calm presence.
According to Grant Soosalu & Marvin Oka, in their book mBraining, they identify the four elements of trust (learning to trust yourself):
Other authors and writers similarly identify the basic requirements of trust as:
These authors point towards the same essential characteristics and requirements of trust. As difficult as it is, I have tried to group these together in a simple explanation:
Is all about listening as well as sharing
As Covey says: “Seek first to understand, and then to be understood”
To build trust, it’s necessary to voice your wants, needs, desires and motives. It’s okay to have self-interest, but be open about what those interests are
“intimacy refers to your willingness to share appropriate information about the things that truly matter.”
Trust begins when we are open & transparent – even with ourselves
It is recognising my value and the value of others, leading to genuine empathy & understanding
Clear & heartfelt commitment to my personal wellbeing and the wellbeing of others
Only then can we build trusted relationships
Actions – Consistency & Character:
In order to build trust, there has to be congruence and alignment between what I say and do! This applies as much to promises I make to myself as what I promise others.
Predictable, reliable, & full of integrity
Loyalty, honour & duty
Respect and selfless service
Oriented to values and the vision – not just selfish interest
Clear set of principles, so you can be on the same wavelength
Can be counted upon
Ability – Competency & Credibility:
Mastery – skilled & knowledgeable
Has a domain of expertise and performs their functions well
Will speak up and give their point of view on the matter at hand from a point of knowledge
Stays current & up to date
Self-assured in their competence
Demonstrating progress towards goals
Emotional and spiritual healing: rebuilding trust
When I look back at boarding school and these four qualities of trust, I find those in authority sorely lacking. If they had known better, they would have done better. But they lacked communication skills; they were authoritarian rather than compassionate. When I look at their actions, looking for consistency and character, I find them predictable, but I couldn’t count on them. They were not always congruent in what they said and did, as the rules did not apply equally to all. Perhaps worst of all, they were not skilled and knowledgeable, although they believed themselves to be.
We were left with an expectation of blind faith and trust in authority because the essential elements of a healthy trust were missing.
I now recognise that I have a proactive role in building relationships: I listen to the desires of my heart and trust my gut. I stay engaged and curious, rather than withdrawing. Instead of seeing myself as helpless and needing to be rescued, I recognise that I must play a part in building my future.
True faith is an inner alignment with yourself and with God. It’s a balance of trusting the universe to provide and doing your part to co-create with the Creator.
Letting the Infinite flow in my life: rebuilding trust
The road back to faith, trust and hope is uneven and rocky. Sometimes, it’s the procession of three steps forward and two steps back as I fall into habitual patterns of blind trust or distrust.
I am learning to communicate and listen. As I consistently practise the presence of the Divine in my life, I hear the small, still voice of Spirit. It requires that I quiet my mind – that I sit in Silence and allow my heart to be still. It’s a daily practice in which my mastery builds up each day.
I have to choose to be open and transparent; it doesn’t happen naturally. There are times I want to shut down, and I have to make a conscious choice to be vulnerable and compassionate. When I commit to building relationships with myself, others, and the Divine, trusting relationships open up for me.
I sit in the Silence each morning to reconnect and refill my heart with the faithful love of Divine Presence, for I trust in Divine Love. Each morning I listen to how I should walk and allow my Spirit to submit fully to Spirit
Ps. 143: 8
My understanding of what it means to rely on the Divine entirely has changed: it is no longer helplessness. I am not frozen in fear, unable to think logically or approach life with curiosity. I’m not keeping myself safe by being emotionally disengaged or apathetic. Instead, I am choosing to be fully present and connected.
From this place, I still choose trust, faith and hope.
Place your trust in the Eternal; rely on the Divine completely; never depend upon your own ideas and inventions. Give the Great Creator the credit for everything you accomplish, trusting that Divine Love will smooth out and straighten the road that lies ahead.
Prov. 3: 5-6
Other posts your might find interesting on Blind Faith:
I recently saw an image posted on social media: “Worry is worshipping the problem”. And without a doubt, I believe that where attention goes, energy flows. I have to regularly stop myself and ask: “Where are you focussing your attention – on the problem or the solution?”
More than this, however, I bring myself back to the reminder that I live in the presence of the Divine. And if I claim to be practising Divine Presence in my life, how is it expressed when faced with problems or challenges?
Am I keeping my attention and focus on the Great Creator, allowing creative solutions to flow to me?
When my mind is focused and stayed on the Divine, perfect peace holds me. I trust in both the process and the outcome.
The effects of worry
When we stay worried – in a stressed state – this impacts us on several levels. One of the primary organs hit by stress and worry is your heart, including your arteries and blood vessels. Consequently, your heart beats faster and harder, resulting in inflamed arterial walls. This inflammation impacts your health:
hardening of the arteries
unhealthy cholesterol levels
high blood pressure
Even in the Bible, we read:
Anxiety weighs down the heart
So then, banish anxiety from your heart and cast off the troubles of your body
Other impacts of anxiety:
When we are anxious and worrying, it’s more than just our heart that gets hit. Blood sugar levels also rise, with the need for more energy caused by adrenaline and then cortisol. We don’t burn off this extra energy; we have passive worry and anxiety. So, those high blood sugar levels, intended to help us escape danger, stay in the body without being burned up for energy.
Our worry also impacts our immune system, weakening it. Our bodies struggle to defend against illness and disease. Additionally, we contend with gut and digestive issues. That knot in your stomach becomes an ulcer or indigestion. Your worries might even impact bowel motility.
We hold this worry and anxiety in our bodies, as well as impacting the central nervous system. To cope, we create:
eating disorders – not eating or over-eating;
bad habits & addictions, and
insomnia and disturbed sleep patterns.
Worry also impacts our relationships, job performance and the ability to make decisions.
Despite knowing all this: we continue to worry and focus on the problem, not the solutions.
The problem with staying anxious & worried:
Anxiety is a state of distraction and prolonged suffering. Our worrying creates a physical and emotional response, in the present moment, regarding a future possibility. It is not an inevitable future outcome but uncertain. You are trying to predict the future and possibly are catastrophising. It may not turn out as you create it in your imagination. And it is indeed not happening right now.
Worry stems from fear. Typically, this is our fear of not being enough or having enough talent, resources, or abilities to face life’s challenges.
This anxiety creates less focus, where you can no longer concentrate on the task at hand. You might become irritable and easily thrown off balance. It’s easy to become disengaged, showing up either as fight and flight or being withdrawn.
Worry reduces your ability to weed out distractions, making it easy to fall into:
a train of worrying thoughts
meaningless tasks & chores that could wait
All of this comes together to impair decision-making.
Unfortunately, part of your brain got unplugged and disengaged by worry! Worry and anxiety lead you towards what might seem (from a limited perspective) the safest choice. But the safest option is not always the best solution.
Good decision-making requires flexibility in your thinking and looking at the problem and solutions from various perspectives. Do you have the ability to look above and beyond the present moment and conditions?
Weigh up the consequences
Plan for the future
Use logical processing
Another challenge when you are worried is that you might not talk about your fears. It’s more than asking for Divine help and guidance. Sometimes you need to talk to people. Perhaps you ask the Divine to get the right people to show up for you.
Finally, when we are worried and overwhelmed, we respond in two opposing ways:
We consider too few options and become fixated.
We overthink all the available options under the sun, a scattered mind that is unable to focus. Because there are too many options, we get overwhelmed.
In both cases, we procrastinate. Then, as we run out of time, we pick the first solution because we want to escape the overwhelming feelings. Of course, if we had proactively studied the options earlier, a different outcome would emerge.
Where are you focused when times are hard?
The Divine invites us to trust: to set a divine intention and then hold that intention as being true. Perhaps the intention is as simple as:
I am capable of making good decisions, guided by Spirit.
We challenge the worry and anxiety and get present in this moment – here and now. Right now, I am safe and secure.
The purpose of doing this is to focus our energy and attention on the direction we should go. Worry tricks us into avoiding what we don’t want: any direction is a good direction, as long as it takes me away from ____. A good decision, on the other hand, takes us in the bearing we want to go. We have a purpose, and we turn towards our goal.
Watch your heart with all diligence: from your heart flows the spring of life.
It’s easy to get caught up worrying about all the things that are beyond our control. But it is when we focus our attention on what we can control that we get anything done.
Things I can control:
my choice to get organised
where to spend and invest my time and energy
how I respond to the challenge before me
how I communicate with others
whether or not I choose to share with others and ask for help
You control whether or not you make a plan, getting specific about which steps to take in the coming days. You put time and energy into this and what you can do and who you can talk to.
Alternatively, sometimes the best choice is to take a break:
The God Box
Everything else – beyond your control – where do you put that?
I put those things in my “God Box”. The God Box is a little cardboard box, hand painted and decorated on the shelf above my desk. All my worries get written on a bit of paper, folded up, and placed in the box.
I place those worries out of sight and mind. At the end of the year, as part of my end of year routine, I’ll paint a new one for 2022 with little miss and we’ll burn the 2021 box and say farewell to the worries we put away.
The power of holding an intention with faith
As a child, my prayers to God were much like asking Santa Claus at Christmas. There was wishing as well as negotiation. As an adult, however, I believe in personal responsibility and accountability for an outcome. And yet, I believe in miracles.
I believe in “be anxious for nothing”. And so, in every situation, I hold an intention and gratitude in my heart. I present every request for my highest good to the Divine Creator. And as a result, my heart is flooded with a peace that I cannot begin to comprehend.
It’s more than a helpless prayer.
It is a proactive prayer, one in which I believe that what I have asked for will come to pass, and therefore it is safe to take steps forward on that path!
Believe that you have received it and it will be yours!
But it is asking with single-mindedness, without a shadow of a doubt. Can you believe that Divine Love cradles you? Are you confident that when you hold an intention for the highest good and possible outcome – daring to pour your time and energy into achieving this – it will come to pass?
It’s more than just faith: aligned action.
They say that if you want to walk on water, you’ve got to start by hopping out of the boat! While that might take the example to an extreme, for me, that is the definition of faith and believing: your actions fully align with what you profess to believe.
My biggest mistakes have been made in blind faith: the faith of sitting waiting without any corresponding action.
My definition of blind faith: I expect a perfect crop without having planted any seeds, watered or weeded. Unless I have grounds to believe that someone else actually planted, watered and weeded, that’s merely blindness. It’s not faith.
Faith is stepping out and putting my plan into effect.
Faith believes that the Divine accompanies me on every step of my path. It allows me to trust that I can listen to the still, small voice of Spirit, make a plan, and then take action.
Keeping the faith that what you’ve planted will grow
Sometimes, faith shows up in patience. Trust is waiting for results without growing anxious. It is confidence in the results that I hope for, resting in the assurance of what I cannot yet see.
Having faith means I am filled with joy and peace as I sit trusting in the Divine. It is overflowing with hope, knowing that the power of Spirit fuels me.
My attention, time, and energy focus on doing what I can. I let go of all aspects beyond my control. I focus on the peace that passes understanding because I place my attention on Divine Love.
We say that God is love, and by this, we typically accept that Divine Love is the law. We see the Divine as the embodiment of love; it is the very nature of the Divine. This love permeates all of creation, present in every one of us.
So, for example, we read in 1 John that anyone who does not love does not know the Divine because Divine Love is the very nature and essence of goodness.
Do you base your love for others on an expectation of reciprocity? Love based on expectations becomes a business deal – if you do this for me, I will love you. How could you make Divine Love an article of commerce? God’s pure love can only flow from a pure heart. It’s impossible to say that you are full of Divine Presence and not overflow with love.
The beatitudes remind us, “Bless those that curse you”.
When we bless, we invoke good upon, calling forth Divine Love. This power of blessing imparts the quickening of spiritual power: it produces growth and increases. It is the very power of multiplication.
A curse, on the other hand, is to affirm evil for or onto something. You might understand this as the removal of Divine Presence. A curse wishes upon others that they not bring forth spiritual good through Divine Love.
When we curse those who curse us, we start from a place of ego: taking upon ourselves the decision to remove Divine Love and Divine Presence from the equation. We punish tit-for-tat, diminishing the spiritual power that produces growth and increase. Because of our pain, we strike out to cause pain to another.
But while your ego may be satisfied, what good has this done for you or another?
Why speak kindly about those to talk badly about you?
Perhaps your natural response is to complain and play the victim. Yet, each time you retell the story of how they wronged you, you replay the emotions and feelings in your body. You relive the moment, over and over again. Our bodies are constantly in tune with these emotions: what are you creating in your health and well-being as you replay and relive a past scenario?
Our stress doesn’t happen “out there”. It is what happens within your mind and your body. How you respond matters: this is the energy that you mirror into the world. It’s the very same energy that will come back to you. In the same way that you can be sure that another person will reap what they sow – you will reap what you sow. You reap the rewards of your thoughts and your words.
How you do anything is how you do everything.
There is no better motivation to speak kindly about others than neuroplasticity! How you respond now is writing neural pathways in your brain. You can self-train and entrain yourself in how to respond.
Most importantly, these same neural pathways become your inner voice and inner critic. They become the automated response in similar situations.
How would you like to entrain yourself to respond in moments of being attacked and stressed in the future?
Finally, consider who is listening and watching you. If you curse those that curse you: who is hearing you do this? Perhaps your children are watching you. Is this what you want them to learn in life?
Or perhaps, you live the Christian life and want your life to be a beacon of light for others. If you claim to love God and yet do not show this in how you respond in everyday life, what example are you showing the world?
Divine Presence is an Inside Job
Transformation is not just what comes out of your mouth or the words that others hear. It is also your thoughts and feelings. So, if you are not feeling up to blessing someone that cursed you, take a moment to sit with your reaction. What is going on inside of you?
Is this about you and an experience from the past you have yet to heal?
Or perhaps, it’s a pattern with this person that repeats, and you have failed to set in place healthy boundaries.
On the other hand, it may simply be a reflection of the state of your relationship with this person.
As you sit with the inner awareness, take time to notice whether you have an overdue conversation with this person. What do you need to clarify or change? Is this a relationship that you can heal?
Patterns of pain
Alternatively, you might notice that your pain is unrelated to this person and what they said to you. What pattern of pain or hurt has this situation shone a light on that hasn’t healed? Is there forgiveness work that you have outstanding?
It is often the case that you remember the pain from your childhood that you have swept under the mat or rationalised. For example, it may well be that a parent, teacher or family member spoke in this way to you, and you felt helpless to respond.
Now, as an adult, you feel the anger of how they mistreated you. A part of you, because you understand that they were doing the best they could, perhaps has already said, “It’s okay, I understand”. But the very fact that you feel triggered sheds light on the healing work you have outstanding.
Will you take this opportunity to go within?
Divine Love often brings people into our lives momentarily to allow us to heal those parts of us that we are overlooking. It’s like a pumice stone that helps us slough off the old skin on the soles of our feet. In the same way, through these healing opportunities, we slough off the deadwood of our soul.
What about this person or situation is truly bothering you?
In what ways did they rub you up the wrong way?
Was it a particular word or phrase that they used?
Maybe it was the tone of their voice?
What about their opinion or comments is vital to you?
As you take time in the silence to consider this person or situation, do you notice a characteristic that you have avoided working on yourself?
Your gratitude: take a moment to thank this person for the opportunity they have given you to go within.
Divine Love flows
If you take a lemon and squeeze it, you expect to get lemon juice.
If you are walking along with your mug of coffee, and someone bumps into you, causing you to spill it, what you will spill is coffee.
That is what you carried in your coffee mug.
So, when you are squeezed or bumped: does Divine Love flow from you? If anything other than Divine Love flows from you, start at the top and reread it all.
The person cursing you is an opportunity to go within. How you do anything – like how you respond when bumped – is how you do everything.
The only thing that can flow out of you is what fills you. Does your cup overflow with Divine Love and inner peace?
Where attention goes, energy flows.
You get to choose where to focus your attention any time another person attacks you. Will you focus on that person and what they have done? Will you choose to be the victim and replay the scenario over in your mind or with others?
Or will you choose the path of healing?
Every interaction with others is an opportunity to notice where you have blocks to the flow of Divine Love in your life. Humility and vulnerability allow us to accept “I am a work in progress”. But it requires that you be open to seeing and attending.
What does Divine Presence require of you today?
Bless those that curse you
Could you bless this person and thank them for holding up a mirror for you to look at yourself thoroughly?
Every person you meet reflects your stage on this journey of life and personal transformation. How does Divine Love overflow through your life? Does it seep out when life squeezes you? Does it spill out if you get bumped?
Divine Love is the law:
Love the Great Creator with all your heart, soul and mind; and
Love your neighbour as yourself.
This is what makes it possible to bless those that curse you.
In this first letter from Paul to the Corinthians, he reminds them that not only is he designated by the will of God, but rather that all of them are also called.
Leaving aside my personal bones to pick with Paul, I cannot ignore the deep learnings that are available to us from reading this passage. Each of us, even today, has a calling. These verses remind us that we are up to this task – the task of fulfilling our purpose – because the Divine enriches every aspect of our lives.
I want to explore:
What we are invited into?
Consider the tools and gifts we are each given to fulfil our life mission.
Your Divine purpose
Every tree, every blade of grass, each bird fulfils a purpose on this planet. When we take the time to simply sit and notice, we see how each living being on earth, whether plant, animal or human, fits into the bigger scheme of life.
Nonetheless, we also see a lot of confusion – internally and in society – about our purpose and callings. Many of us are merely “staying alive” and struggling to survive.
Growing up in a very evangelical church, I was brought up to believe that my purpose would be “a cross to carry”. I was terrified of discovering my purpose, hoping it would not be a calling to go to Africa as a missionary. In churches, we talk about “knowing the will of God in your life”, but most of the time it’s put on us as “you’re called into missions” or “you’re called to preach the word of God”.
But if we take a look at most of the “heroes” of the Bible, we find that they were ordinary people with ordinary jobs. They simply happened to be in the right place at the right time. And when they were asked to step into doing something “big”, their lives had already prepared them for this.
Consider Deborah, for example. While she was considered a prophet, she was busy doing her day-to-day responsibilities of being the local “judge”. I’m pretty sure that she didn’t see her job, most days, as anything out of the ordinary. Especially if you watch any episodes of traffic courts or have ever spent a couple of hours in your local magistrate’s court, you will see the everyday complaints that people bring. There was nothing remarkable about her calling — until there was.
Knowing your Divine purpose starts with recognising that we were already given the necessary gifts to fulfil our mission. Paul reminds the Corinthians of this:
“you are not ill-equipped or slighted on any necessary gifts”.
If you are unsure what your purpose and mission are, a great place to start is looking at your talents and natural gifts and abilities. You have everything you need to fulfil your purpose in life. Because a bird has wings, it flies (or if it’s a chicken, it tries to).
I doubt cherry trees complain to each other that they wish they were able to produce oranges, and yet we waste so much of our time lamenting the gifts and talents that we don’t have.
Today I want to invite you to do an inventory of your natural gifts and talents, and consider your calling and purpose in this light.
Set apart for service
Think for a moment of when you are arranging a table for dinner: you go to the cupboard, and you pick up the plates. If there are four of you for dinner, you don’t choose six plates, but only four. You set them aside for service: the ones that you need when you need them. The rest of the dishes sit in the cupboard, waiting to be shown when they will be required.
Know this: you have been set aside for service. Perhaps you feel like you are sitting in the cupboard – always on the shelf rather than in the game. I wonder if Deborah thought that she was on the shelf as she worked through listening to all the petty complaints that were brought before her.
But Paul reminds us that our purpose will be revealed.
There are two other callings, apart from our life purpose. We are called to be saints, and we are called into community.
Called to be saints
While Deborah might have been “a saint”, the first description of Deborah was that she was the wife of Lapidoth. I wonder if Lapidoth considered her to be “a saint”; probably not in the way that you and I imagine the word to mean.
So, today I invite you to rewrite your definition of what it means to be a saint!
The calling to be saints is about how we live our day-to-day lives. If I had to sum it up in one word, I would say it’s compassion:
Love for the Divine, with a constant connection that we are overflowing with love and compassion
Love for our neighbour as ourself
Compassion allows us to be kind and patient. It will enable us to live with love in our lives, as mentioned in 1 Corinthians 13:
not envious, proud or boastful
not self-seeking or dishonouring others
it keeps no record of wrongs and is not easily angered
We are all called to live in this place of being fulling aligned with Divine Love. What is your personal definition of what it means to live as a saint? Make it realistic for you, rather than something so out of reach that you could not aspire to live each day in sainthood!
Called into community
You are also called into community: that we cannot live in isolation. Take a moment and consider what your community looks like:
hobbies and activities that you participate in
volunteering & community activities
your neighbourhood where you live
your spiritual community
What does your community look like?
God is enriching every aspect of your life
You are promised that nothing is lacking because you have all the gifts that you need. Paul describes this as
God is enriching every aspect of your lives.
He then goes on to explain what he means by this.
You are enriched in speech
This means, when you are in touch with the Divine and that deep inner knowing, you will have the right words to say. Enriched in speech is knowing what to say and when to say nothing.
Most of us want to think about what to say. We make up scenarios and speeches in our head, failing to listen to the still small voice of Spirit.
Consider silence and just going within to listen, confident that you are enriched in speech.
You are enriched in knowledge
Everything you need to know, you will know. Can you trust this?
My first “real job” at sixteen was working as a cashier at McDonald’s: “Would you like fries with that?”. Later in life, I have come to cherish what I learned from “would you like fries with that?” – because it is a lesson in upselling. McDonald’s sells millions of fries every year because of this simple phrase. The client is already there, and they have their wallet in their hand, ready to buy something. The cashier doesn’t know what the client wants, and often the result of the question is “no, but I will have…”. While they didn’t sell the fries, they got an additional sale from the client.
This mundane, everyday job taught me a skill that has served me well over the past thirty years. Am I always open to adding more value to someone else’s life?
You, too, are enriched with knowledge. You have life experiences, abilities and life lessons that you possibly haven’t tapped into. You might not be aware of everything you know.
But trust that you know everything that you need to know when you need it. You are enriched with knowledge.
Enriched with God’s grace, peace & faithfulness
Today I want to remind you that you are enriched with grace, peace and faithfulness. I don’t mean that you show others mercy, but instead that you accept grace, be open to a peace that transcends your understanding, and that you experience Divine faithfulness towards you.
“Grace is love that cares and stoops and rescues.”(John Stott)
It is said that the grace of God is the opposite of karma – it’s receiving the good that you do not deserve because you are a child of God. You are loved and cherished. In my life, I can see where I have blocked grace, continuing to believe that I deserve punishment and the consequences of my decisions and actions. Nonetheless, we are enriched with grace. Are you willing to accept more grace?
We are also enriched with peace: that peace that while we are waiting, we will be sustained emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually. It’s the peace that we hold within us, even in the middle of the storm. This inner peace does not depend on what is happening in our environment. While we are aware of the situation and in touch with it – we are present – but we also connect with the Divine. It is that Divine that allows us to say
I am not overcome by the storm, because I am one with the storm.
Sometimes storms clear our path. Can you recognise this inner peace which sustains you while you wait?
Finally, the Divine is faithful, constant and true. When I say we are enriched with faithfulness, I am not referring to your faith in God, but rather how the Divine relates to you! It doesn’t matter how small your faith is, but rather that we know that Divine Love is faithful. We can trust that all things are working for our good and that we are enriched with all good things.
Our response to this is one of gratitude and thanksgiving.
If you are struggling to discover your purpose, consider a daily practice of gratitude, where you each day you focus your attention and thanksgiving on your talents, gifts, strengths and abilities. Start to notice the patterns and what you genuinely enjoy. Be grateful for the desires of your heart and the wisdom and insight that you gain from being present.
Take note of the times when you receive grace: when in spite of the natural consequences of your choices and decisions, you get a second chance! Practice thanksgiving for all those opportunities.
Start to notice when you are filled with peace, in spite of the situations and challenges you are facing. Be grateful for those moments.
Notice the presence of the Divine in your life in each moment of the day. Sit in silence and be thankful.
As I see here in Panama wave after wave of Venezuelans arriving, running from the disaster in their country, I realise that it is hard for us to welcome them with open arms. People here feel threatened by the mass migration wave that has hit Panama – “there are too many of them”. Crimes rates have increased over the past three years. Housing has become more expensive. Unemployment has increased. The cost of living has gone up.
For God so loved the world… that over two thousand years ago, Jesus came to this earth in human form to show us what this love truly means. Through his life, his teachings and his example, we find a new way, a better way. He gave what we may consider to be the ultimate sacrifice, his earthly body, in a painful and excruciating death, so that we might receive the gift of Oneness of our spiritual bodies with God, no longer separated but as Children of God. Through this, we might fully understand the meaning of eternal life, as spiritual beings living continually in the presence of God. Not waiting for our earthly death for eternity to start, but recognising that we are already living eternity.
Jesus came and taught us humility, as he lived as a refugee in Egypt as a child, much like Syrian refugees live today in Jordan and Lebanon. Do we treat our refugees any better than we have treated Jesus? How do we treat the refugees from Venezuela? The refugees from Haiti, from Africa? If we imagine that each of these refugees was Jesus, how are we doing?
‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’ (Matthew 25: 40)
In Matthew 18: 1 we find the disciples discussing “Who really is the greatest in the Kingdom of the heavens?” He calls a child, stands the child in the midst of the disciples and tells them:
“Unless you turn around and become as young children, you will by no means enter into the Kingdom of the heavens. Therefore, whoever will humble himself like this young child is the one who is the greatest in the Kingdom of the heavens; and whoever receives one such young child on the basis of my name receives me also.”—Matthew 18:3-5.
As we consider how we are treating the sojourners and refugees among us, then we known how great we are in the Kingdom! Before the last supper, we find Jesus washing the feet of his disciples.
Because God so loved us… Jesus showed us the importance of reading the Word, as a twelve year old when he read and discussed in the temple the scriptures. Luke 2: 47 says that “all that heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers.” At twelve years old. He not only was willing to read the Bible allowed in the temple, but to answer questions and explain it. And yet, we seem to struggle each week for participants to read the scriptures aloud in church each Sunday.
Jesus showed us dedication and patience, as he worked as a carpenter, under his father’s tutelage. And yet we reject the authority of our parents, failing to honor our mother and father as we are called to do. We push our way forward for honor and rewards, seeking the limelight, rather than being willing to work in the background.
Because God so loved you… Jesus showed us how to handle the temptations that arise in our day to day lives. Through his temptations of hunger (lust of the body), egoism (misuse of our power) and materialism (kingdoms and wealth) we see what is means to be a child of God, holding fast to that identity, and still standing strong in the knowledge of what that really means. In these temptations, we see the challenge to Jesus: “If you are the Son of God” – are you really a child of God? Prove it.
Through these temptations, we see how the ego wants to use our spiritual power and gifts to satisfy human cravings. This is attempting to turn stones into bread, the attempt to find gratification in using spiritual power to satisfy human, personal desires.And yet, Jesus shows us the better and higher way. Are you fully secure in your identity as a child of God? Can you, like Jesus, respond: “It is written”? Our human nature wants to demonstrate prosperity and success or healing and “prove” that it works. We think some outer achievement will make us happy and successful. But Jesus teaches us a higher way: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God.”
Most importantly, Jesus showed us what it really means to have a relationship with God, to have the indwelling of the Spirit. Jesus showed us, in his every day living and loving, what it means to truly be One with God the Father.
John 14: 4-7 promise us:
4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. …7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
We are reminded of this again in John 17: 21-23
As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 … so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
For God so loved the World that he sent us Jesus… who taught us what it means to be a child of God (as each one of us has already been called to be). Paul says in Colossians 2:9 “For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form.” The Message says “Everything of God gets expressed in him, so that you can see and hear God clearly”.” Are you living out your life as a son or daughter of God? Is every quality of God fully expressed in your life and living and loving?
Psalm 82: 6 says in a stunning way:
You are gods, And all of you are sons of the Most High.
The same calling to greatness and Oneness with God that Jesus had, each of us has. To be the Son of God is to be of the same nature as God. The Son of God is “of God.” We were created by God, in God’s image, to do God’s will on this earth. And God so loved each one of us, as sons and daughters, that God sent us Jesus to show us the way home.
Jesus reminds us of this in John 10: 33-38:
33 The Jews answered, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you, but for blasphemy, because you, though only a human being, are making yourself God.” 34 Jesus answered, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, you are gods’? 35 If those to whom the word of God came were called ‘gods’—and the scripture cannot be annulled— 36 can you say that the one whom the Father has sanctified and sent into the world is blaspheming because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’? 37 If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me. 38 … know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”
Like the Prodigal son, we have lived our lives without authority, power, belonging and sharing at the table of the feast: but God loved us. And so today we are reminded of this rich mercy, of the great love with which we are loved. We are made alive in Christ, seated with him, shown the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us! If we are living in separation from God, then we are throwing away the gift of love that was given to us.
And because of this great love that we have been shown, we are all challenged today to love each other! The test of how well we have overcome that which separates us from God is how well we love our brothers and sisters:
John 13: 35
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. … So then, each of us will be accountable to God.
And in Matthew we read:
So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.
The reading in Matthew started with:
Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?”
18:22 Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
Some say that means that we have to forgive 77 times and others say that’s 490 times: seventy times seven. So, imagine with me, for a moment, if God actually kept score of our forgiveness of each other, the same way that we keep score of how others have wronged us. How would that ledger look? Do you ever make it to forgiving someone 77 times for one offence? Ever?
And then imagine if God was as quick to pass judgment on us as we pass judgment on others. Romans asks us today, why do we despise each other? Some versions say “treat them with contempt”, others use the word “belittle” or “look down on”, and still other versions say “set at naught”. To set at naught means to treat as of no account, to disdain, to hold in disregard, to treat with ignominy, to hold as insignificant.
A loving Christian is meant to care, deeply, for others: family, friends, church members & neighbors. But when we go into survival mode, that vulnerability and authenticity get shut down. Poets have long claimed that hearts grow cold and become hardened: we treat others with disdain and insignificance. In our attempt to protect ourselves from distress and dull the pain, we divest ourselves of caring and responsibility.
When broken people live together in a broken world, pain is inevitable for anyone who loves. The only way to avoid the crushing pain of a broken heart is to make your heart unbreakable. So, we become the person that says “I don’t care” or “whatever”, when the luxury of giving ourselves the time and space to feel is threatened. And much of this despising or indifference towards others comes from looking inwards at our hurt and pain, and the defense mechanisms that we naturally have to block this out: just stop feeling. And so our hearts become hardened. If you choose the becoming “unbreakable”, you will also choose to lose your compassion.
What is critical to remember is when a heart becomes hardened, the brain has its own reasons for pressing down upon vulnerable feelings. To feel sets the person up to get hurt and the brain is geared towards survival at all costs. To bring emotional defenses down, the heart must be softened. The question is how can this be done? For me, personally, forgiveness has played an incredible role. I have repeatedly worked with Ho’oponopono meditation, where you sit and repeat: “I love you, I’m sorry, Please forgive me, Thank you.” I’ve used this focusing on loving myself, loving others, loving God.
Forgiving and letting go is so much more than just my relationship with other people: a hardening of heart inevitably means I have hardened my heart towards God. And when you forgive yourself and others, truly forgiving them, you begin once more to experience God’s love and light in your life.
Jesus knew this: which is why he said we need to forgive an offense 77 times (or 490 if you read the KJV). If we want to be compassionate in this world, we need to allow people into our hearts. People will hurt you. People will take advantage of you. People will manipulate you. Not everyone and not all the time, but some will. And you have two choices: you can either choose to forgive or you can choose to become hard. You can’t have it both ways. And forgiving is a hard practice: for most of us, it is not something we just do once and then we’re done. Hence the need to forgive again, and again.
When we remember the offense that the other person has committed against us, we have to repeat: practicing forgiveness. And for a while we will forget and let it go. But the memory of the hurt and offense will come back again, and we will have to repeat once more. And repeat once again. Not because you are going to leave yourself in a situation where that person will continue to hurt or take advantage of you, but because you are choosing a relationship with God over and above all things.
When you are consciously aware that such-and-such a person is “like this”: let’s say that they always ask you to lend them money and they never pay it back. When you make a decision to forgive them and also to keep that person in your life, you know that you will be exposed to more requests for money that will not be paid back. And then you have two choices:
You can give them the money, as a gift, freely, with love; or
If you cannot find it in your heart to give them the money lovingly, you can learn the life lesson of saying “no”. Of learning how to say “no” with love, without attacking them; without putting them down. Just “no”.
But if you give them that money with resentment, it’s like you are putting a curse upon them, because in your heart: you are cursing them and resenting them. If you are going to give, then give with love and joyously. Make it truly a blessing.
1 John 4: 20 reminds us of this truth:
“Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.”
There’s a lot of emotional intelligence involved in being a true Christian! You have to set loving boundaries in your life: where you love yourself enough to be true to yourself, and yet you love God enough to be willing to do the work to be open, vulnerable and authentic. We say we love God, but then we’re not willing to let go of our pain and hurt. That’s mine – my precious. I’m holding onto that pain. I’m not letting it go, I’ve been carrying it around for so long now, it’s part of who I am.
We say we love God, but then we’re not willing to let go of our judgments and prejudices against others. Paul says in Romans 14: don’t judge those who are vegetarians, or those who eat pork, or those who honor the Sabbath differently from us. Are we supposed to respect the Sabbath on Saturday, or on Sunday? We live in a society where dressing in a nun’s habit is okay, but it’s not okay to dress in a hijab. A society where girls should be allowed to dress anyway they like – but it’s their own fault when they get raped for dressing seductively. If we read Romans 4, verses 2 to 4 from the version The Message, we read:
For instance, a person who has been around for a while might well be convinced that he can eat anything on the table, while another, with a different background, might assume he should only be a vegetarian and eat accordingly. But since both are guests at Christ’s table, wouldn’t it be terribly rude if they fell to criticizing what the other ate or didn’t eat? God, after all, invited them both to the table. Do you have any business crossing people off the guest list or interfering with God’s welcome? If there are corrections to be made or manners to be learned, God can handle that without your help.
So who are we to judge another by appearances? Everyone has been invited to God’s table and is to be warmly welcomed. Even those who have hurt us. Even those who have somehow betrayed us. Our accountability before God is individual – I will be judged according to what I have thought, said, done or failed to do in honor of God. You will be judged and held accountable for what you have thought, said, done, or failed to do for God.
I leave us with this parting thought about the way we live our lives, in forgiveness and compassion for all others who are invited to the table:
None of us are permitted to insist on our own way in these matters. It is God we are answerable to—all the way from life to death and everything in between—not each other. (The Message – Romans 14:7-8)
So one of the books that I’m reading at the moment is “In Tune with the Infinite“, by Ralph Waldo Trine. I am loving this book! Hard to believe it was originally written some 115 years ago – it’s easy reading! But what I really love about the book is that he focuses on Oneness with God, every moment of each day. Life hasn’t always been this way: I haven’t always valued being present and being aware of Presence or oneness with God.
I am much more comfortable with the terms he uses to refer to God than with those of some other books, but my awareness of the names we use to refer to God are also a reflection of the image we have created of how and what God is.
Is God personal or simply a Presence?
I really struggle with identifying where I stand on this? Maybe because I think God is both! God is God (omnipotent & omnipotence; omniscient & omniscience; omnipresent & omnipresence): why must we put God in a box and a definition?
A bit of background:
I grew up in a fundamentalist (of course, we didn’t call ourselves that!) group, where Mum & Dad worked as missionaries. Now when I look at the “do’s” and “don’ts”, the corporal punishment expected to be given (i.e. my parents were looked down on if they didn’t punish), and the control over how everyone lived their lives, I wonder how close to being a “cult” we were. Thankfully, Mum & Dad got kicked out of the mission, although it was heartbreaking and earth-shattering at the time. It was all I knew. Then we moved back to New Zealand, where I discovered that we were Presbyterian.
How does a Presbyterian end up in a fundamentalist group? Trying to save the world! I have to hand that to Mum & Dad: they truly believed that they were doing God’s will and this was the best that they can be. And I will say this for them: every time I go back to Soloy or Tolè, they are remembered by everyone with great love and affection. They positively impacted people’s lives. And in some cases, literally saved lives (mum was an RN and midwife, so in the boondocks with no EMTs or hospitals, sometimes mum was everything). And dad was love. He loved these people with his heart. If I had just an ounce of the amount of love that dad has for the world, I would be a great person! Do I disagree with some of dad’s opinions? Yes. But I can agree to disagree with him!
By 17 I had “left” the church: blame it on the hormones, the rebellious years, starting University and living the student life. But, the explanation that I gave to myself – as does every self-righteous 17 year old – is that I was sick of the hypocrisy. And by hypocrisy I mean: you know I go out drinking on Friday & Saturday night, and you want me to come to church on Sunday morning and pretend to be a good Christian. I would much rather sleep in and sleep off the hangover!
Reality, which I came to face years later, is that I was mad at God, at Christians, at the mission (especially leadership), and at “organized religion”. I didn’t know enough then to be able to think through all of those things or actually verbalize it yet. So, it was much easier just to be a rebellious teenager that no longer wanted to go to church with my parents.
Forgiveness & moving on
At 21, in the midst of an existential crisis, my flatmate leant me a book she had just finished reading as she went through her separation & divorce that had really helped her: Louise Hay “You can heal your life“. I read it through once. And then I read it through a second time, and did all the assignments as it suggested. And my happy (well, actually, miserable at the time) little bubble finished bursting! I literally packed a weekend bag and my dog (you can’t cry if you don’t have a dog to hug!), borrowed a friend’s bach in Kaiaua (pronounced: Ky-ow-ah), and went off to say goodbye to my demons! I spent the better part of 3 days grieving and forgiving. Letting go. And coming to terms with “what do I believe now?”.
I realized that I blamed God for everything: everything that had been done by so-called Christians in God’s name was God’s fault! A child’s view? Perhaps. But also the consequence of the way I was brought up!
My broken heart and broken dreams and broken family all tumbled out. I came to terms with everything that I blamed Mum & Dad for: and came to an understanding of how they were also victims to some extent of what had happened. And I realized, as a young adult, that they were human. They had done the best they could with what they had and they knew. They were not perfect: they could have done things differently, but they didn’t know any different. They protected me to the best of their ability, they same way they looked after my sister and brother. And for all 3 of us, it hadn’t been enough. We were hurt and broken. But so were they! Life had dealt them a beating and they were lucky to still be standing! I’ll write about all of that another day!
And most importantly, I started to forgive myself!
Twenty years growing up in Christianity and I had to learn from Louise Hay what forgiveness and letting go meant! I’ve read somewhere that tears contain healing properties. I must have completely healed my body in those 3 days with all the tears I cried!
Who & what is God?
Having said that, after that weekend, I came away with a view of God as an impersonal entity that was not involved in the daily affairs of men. I was done with Christianity! God and I were good, insofar as I no longer blamed God for how I had reacted to everything that had happened to me over the past 20 years. Man-made situations were simply that: created by other men & women who had claimed to be acting on God’s behalf. And I was done with organised religion and others telling me what God had said and how to read and interpret the Bible.
And so there I stood, happily: standing on my own two feet. Responsible for my life and the life I wanted to have. Not some rebellious teen that didn’t want to go to Church on Sunday morning because she wanted to sleep off last nights drinks, but someone who simply decided that God was “out there” and not “in my heart”. Religion was organized to control and manipulate us, but each person had to decide for themselves what they believed.
I was suddenly comfortable talking to Mum & Dad about God and beliefs and life in generally without feeling guilty that I was living differently from what they believed. I built a new relationship with Mum & Dad: one that to this day is amazing! They’ve done a great job of growing up.
And so, for the better part of the next 15 years, I was a happy agnostic. I am totally responsible for my life and being, and God may exist, but it has nothing to do with me personally.
Living as a happy agnostic
So, as a happy agnostic, at 23, I came back to Panama to say “goodbye” to the ghosts and ghouls of the past, to forgive and let go of any last vestiges that might be in my subconscious. The plan: spend 3 months on holiday in Panama and then move to the UK to go backpacking for a year while I decided to do with life. But free and clear of anything that I was still hanging on to, because I always felt in New Zealand that I was in the wrong place. Something was still hanging onto me that wouldn’t let me move forward with life.
Of course, life never quite goes as planned: twenty-one years later and I am still in Panama. It is still home!
When I stepped out of the airport doors (which was air conditioned), and I was struck by the hot, humid air, something inside said “Welcome home”. And so, in a second, I changed my mind. I am not going to stay 3 months, I’m going to get a job and stay for 2 years. That plan isn’t the one that happened either. I’m still here!
Living in a predominantly Catholic country, where I would venture to say that the vast majority are non-practicing, it’s easy to be agnostic. No one is worried here about what church you do or don’t go to; no one worries about your “salvation” or what you personally believe. There’s superstition, possibly more than your fair share. I adopted a black cat – so I was definitely a witch! And I let people believe it, if that was what they wanted to think. It’s just a cat! But if you want to assign my cat some supernatural powers, so be it.