I’m usually not the type to despair, but sometimes I do. Here is the thing that fills my heart with sorrow.
Our world is in one of its most trying times in existence. International borders closed, families and friends kept physically isolated for extended periods of time, bushfires and hurricanes, unknown and highly contagious diseases, injustice and violent protest. You’ve gotta wonder, what on earth could happen next? You hope for it to get better, but it’s very likely things will only continue to get worse.
If music tells you a lot about a person, get ready to learn a lot about me – here are five bands that have shaped my life and gotten me through the ups and downs of life.
If you appreciate music, are looking for some new tunes to check out, or just like people being reflective, give this one a read.
Everyone’s being super reflective at the moment. Being an INFJ super reflective type at most times, I’ve definitely appreciated seeing people taking stock and sharing about themselves in a more intimate fashion. I love hearing people’s dreams and their life journeys and so loving to see the innermost machinations of people’s hearts and minds being put to writing at a time when the world needs it most. Good job, world.
With the need to be physically distant from others in this season, it can be a very trying time for human connection. Here are 8 ways to be physically distant but stay socially connected.
A positive look at our great opportunity during this trying time.
I’m writing this in the midst of a world in chaos. COVID-19 AKA Coronavirus is ripping through the world and destroying much of the societal norms that have existed to this point. Affecting China for several months at this point, the spread of the virus has become fairly widespread. As a result, governments everywhere are making necessary decisions with far reaching consequences – closing borders, reimbursing small businesses, and mandating that most social gathering and large scale events not occur, or occur within certain sizing limits.
One of the deepest questions of this season isn’t around presents, lights, carols or shops – it’s this: When will Christmas be happy?
Christmas really is one of the most unique times of the year. I’m walking around Australian shops in 40 degree heat and our country is currently facing a huge bushfire crisis, but at the same time, all the songs playing are about winter wonderlands and letting it snow and the carol of the winter bells… and everyone seems to find it completely normal. Shops are open later providing more opportunities to shop, and yet they’ve still been always full. Our politically correct world all of a sudden has no issue with religious figures or making comments about fat men with white beards.
It’s a time of feasting, presents, toys, traditions, big family
get togethers, lights, classic movies, and love. Or at least that’s what we
feel it should be. When Christmas is working, it works great, and the magic of
what Christmas could be is indeed alive and well. But when it’s not working so
well, you’re left wondering when will Christmas be happy.
Christmas brings with it a darker side every year. As with
anything that repeats every year, Christmas brings with it a magnifying glass
on the areas of your life that are less than you want them to be. It reminds
you of where you were this time last year and the years before that. Check out
some of these lesser known facts on how happy Christmas actually is for people:
Relationships Australia studies report that Christmas is in the top six stressful experiences in life, up there with moving house, divorce and changing jobs. About a third of respondents to their 2016 survey reported family relationships highly negatively affected by work-life balance and financial pressures of the season
A study by Age UK carried up in the leadup to Christmas found hundreds of thousands of older people who found themselves alone on Christmas day, and also who had not seen a single friend in over a month
The pressures of the upcoming holiday make December 11 the most likely day to break up
I think one of the most telling indicators of the loneliness and stress of Christmas are a few of the stories that get repeated every year. The third most popular Christmas song according to the Spotify numbers is Wham’s Last Christmas – a song of remorse and pain about the loss of love in the previous year. We have the story of the Grinch, a child who is rejected at Christmas and for every Christmas, so much so to the point that the only way he can handle the pain is by tearing down the happiness of others. And of course we have Ebenezer Scrooge, a man with a similar story – left alone at Christmas time, with breaks up with the love of his life at Christmas, spending his life angry at the world for what Christmas did to him.
I’ve always liked the movie Four Holidays (also known as Four
Christmases) which is a bit of a humourous depiction on the real state of
relationships at the time of Christmas. It’s about two people dating each other
who both come from broken homes and need to travel to four different places to
celebrate with everyone. It’s funny but surprisingly profound in presenting
what life’s reality is like for many people – family breakdown, relationships
that are unreconciled or have unaddressed issues, holiday-induced childhood
trauma, painful memories, how little we actually know about each other,
disparate dreams and goals – all thrown in the pressure cooker of the Christmas
When will Christmas be happy? When you look at the stats and the stories that resonate with people this time of the year, you can see why so many people are asking this question.
For me, Christmas has been a bit of a mixed bag. Some years have been really wonderful – others have been really hard. Some Christmases I remember laughing so hard I cried. Another Christmas comes to mind where I spent a few hours crying into the carpet in my living room, lying there overwhelmed with what was going on. The magnifying glass on relationships and where you are with your goals and dreams is often a challenging one to confront, especially when the key message of the season is to celebrate with joy. Sometimes, that can be furthest from the truth. Some years would be as blissful as a 90s Christmas movie. Others would be reminders of bad relationship breakdowns, of struggles to move forward in life, of wondering when it will be my turn, of wondering if certain things would ever be different.
I think it’s hard because all of us want to be happy. We want the holiday to be a time of celebration. We want the joy that we’ve been told our whole lives we should have at this time of the year. Even beyond the holiday season, we want our lives to look and be a certain way. I even recently wrote about that challenge of expectations vs. reality in my 2019 In Review post. When you want your life to look a certain way, when you’re single and you want to be married, when you’re heartbroken and you want to be whole, when you’re lonely and you want to be celebrated, when you want your broken relationships to be reconciled, when you have people and situations in your life that refuse to change – that’s when Christmas gets hard.
And all those things add up and start to prompt some of the
deepest and darkest concerns of the heart. If only someone would celebrate me.
If only someone would think me worth the effort. If only someone would give be
their best when I feel like I give others my best. If only the love I give
could be returned to be. If only…
If only we could see that this is what the Christmas message
Lost in commercialism, we forget a little child in a manger, born
to prove every insecurity I feel about myself is incorrect. In a world where I
may feel overlooked or unseen, Christmas proves that I am completely seen, that
I am worthy of the ultimate effort, that someone cares enough about me to reach
out to me and repair and restore what’s been broken. It tells me that I’m
loved, I’m worthwhile… Christmas shows me that I matter. You don’t need to do
anything for acceptance, but you can live a life from acceptance
We think this message is dated and irrelevant. We relegate it to
baby ceramic Jesus on the coffee table or in the Myer catalogue. Perhaps that’s
why we remain so unhappy. Perhaps that’s why I still think I’m unloved or
alone. Perhaps that’s why we can become like the Grinch or Scrooge and cope
with our pain by trying to blame or ruin the joy of others.
The true joy of Christmas is that I am celebrated and loved beyond
measure. A child born to die for the chance that I might live, and truly
Maybe that message doesn’t take away the bad things that have
happened in your life, the rejection you’ve faced, the painful things that
still exist in your life today. I think it’s important that we take the time to
face and process those feelings at Christmas time. Perhaps Christmas wouldn’t
be so painful if we took the time to process things properly throughout the
year rather than spending our lives avoiding them or trying to work around
them. We blame Christmas for reminding us of the things we’re trying to forget,
but maybe running from our problems isn’t going to bring us the peace we need.
Even amidst our challenges, what the message of Christmas does for
me is it shows me I never have to face anything alone. That Emmanuel isn’t just
a pretty name, but a reality that God is with us… if I’ll let him.
Have you ever had someone in your life who has refused you?
Rejected you? Taken your best and wasted it? Given your heart but the very next
day, they gave it away? Imagine if you were to do that to someone who cared for
you. This Christmas, don’t miss this gift. You are loved and desired more than
you could ever know.
I hope this Christmas that you don’t find yourself asking (or
asking again), “When will Christmas be happy?”. In the midst of what
you may have faced in your life, I hope that this holiday season you find to be
a time of restoration, of reconciliation, of new hopes and dreams. See the love
that surrounds you this season and indeed through every season of life.
“And I celebrate the day that you were born to die, that I
could one day pray for you to save my life.”
It might not mean much to you, but it means everything to me – here is the story of how Easter changed my life.
Easter is a contentious time around the world. It’s a holiday
perpetuated because the Christian world hijacked an existing pagan festival
around the time of the equinox. Because so much of Western civilization is
built on Judeo-Christian beliefs, from our legal system to our constitutions,
we all get that awesome holiday that occurs sporadically across March and April
each year. As society increasingly moves towards a secularised worldview and
looks to remove religious symbolism and ideology from life, it seems Easter is
now simply about a holiday in the first half of the year where we have a chance
to get away and relax. The celebration is met with renewed debate about the
role of religion in society, and whether or not faith is dead based on how much
the world now knows about how the universe works.
My wife and I were at K-Mart the other day where we were behind a couple that bought $177 worth of Easter eggs, presumably for the kids. For those who don’t know, K-Mart is known for its low prices, so we’re talking kilograms of chocolate here. I’m sure those kids will be having a good morning on Sunday. Some friends have been telling me about a great trip away they’ve organized, and Easter will be a great time for them. I know of many people ramping up on Marvel movies in preparation for Avengers: Endgame, and also those who are rewatching the Star Wars Episode IX trailer on repeat for the entire weekend.
The downtime and the chance to have a break are always nice and something I welcome, carrying a lot of good memories of good times. But for me, Easter will always carry a significance that no other time of the year can match. This is the story about how Easter changed my life.
People often say to me, “Matt, for such a smart guy, we can’t believe that you think that faith stuff is real”. It’s a pretty common train of thought. I remember watching a video from noted atheist Penn Jillette where he stated that he couldn’t understand how so many intellectual, grounded, successful people he knew could profess faith in God. He thought the notion of God speaking to people must be a code word that he didn’t understand and was not included in the loop, like it was some secret saying that actually meant something else. I have been hearing such conjecture my entire life, particularly being a person who went into the logical field of IT. I’ve always been a nerd and always been surrounded by great thinkers who would routinely debate me on the relevance and reality of faith, or lack thereof.
I grew up in a Christian home. My grandparents are Roman Catholic and I was similarly christened in the Catholic Church. As I got a bit older, we started going to another type of church, what would be referred to as “Pentecostal”. We would go multiple times a weekend without fail. Church was a priority above anything else really, and we’d be the first people there, connecting with and talking with everybody, and the last to leave.
In 1994, when I was 5 years old, our preacher was talking about the story of Easter, and also how if you believed in your heart that Jesus died and rose again and confessed with your mouth who Jesus is, it would mean that you could get to know God. In the little mind inside my little 1950s haircut head, I thought, “wow! I could get to know God!”, and went down the front and decided to become a Christian. Of course being 5 I didn’t and couldn’t fully understand everything, but I knew that that was what I wanted.
As I got older, I kept going along to church several times a weekend. I got involved in the kids ministry program, decided to get water baptised at age 11, then eventually was involved as a leader in the program. I read a book by a mentor figure you would’ve seen quoted several times across my blog by Doctor John C. Maxwell called “Leading From The Lockers” that really set me up to have a sense of purpose and direction with my life, even from a younger age. Our family then moved over to another similar type of church where I really got cemented and was able to be an active member of the youth program and youth leadership initiatives.
Outside of my church world, I was a teenager in high school, and I had some very new experiences along the way. I had never really had a time away from church, and still haven’t to this point of my life, and I didn’t really find myself questioning what had already become somewhat of a conviction in my life. But what I was presented with during high school was a large number of people who I saw were questioning things, having something missing in their life that I had never felt was missing in my own. That, and the arguments being presented to me didn’t seem to make logical sense.
They were searching, and they had some brilliant and very real questions along the way. It was at this time in my life where I really branched out into the intellectual and historical backgrounds of Christianity, and saw that fact and logic aligned with what I had already believed. I learned more about the origins of Scripture, about the 24000 copies of the New Testament manuscripts copied over the span of 300 years allowing for great precision in assessing any deviations, and the documents by other historians and authors that confirmed what Scripture described as having occurred. I learned about the fulfilled prophecy of the Old Testament, such as the rise and fall of Alexander the Great being chartered in detail 250 years before his birth by the prophet Daniel. And I learned how logical faith really was by consulting the wisdom of great theologians across modern and formative eras of the faith.
More than anything, I had reinforced in my heart that what I believed was true, and what was even better was that I got to see others in my high school and surrounding connections begin their faith journey as well. I saw the dramatic transformation in their life, the areas of brokenness that found healing, the physical torment that found supernatural resolution, and a sense of purpose and direction that did not have any other explanation than the divine.
That may make it sound like I had a fairytale of a life and a purely blissful faith experience. It was great, don’t get me wrong, but by the time I’d finished high school, there were several challenges awaiting me in my young adult years. I was close to several people that I knew from multiple different arenas who became very sick or had great crises of faith or life struggle all at the same time. And I remember praying and asking God where everyone was in all this, and I remember being taken by the hand as I walked to the bus one day, and filled with a comfort that my heart will never forget.
I have seen many miracles in my life and in the lives of others. As an active part of the key leadership team at my church, I had the privilege of meeting people every week who were discovering the answers that Jesus provided. They came from all sorts of backgrounds – agnostic, atheist, Muslim, non-practising, even Christians who had fallen away and were now trying to come back and get their lives and hearts sorted out, business men and women, young professionals, students, parents, sinners and saints – and all of them finding the same freedom and truth in their lives. I watched drug addicts recover in record time. I watched lonely people find family and friendship within the community of faith. I watched broken hearts reconciled, aimless people find direction, bodies physically healed, and dreams restored on a scale that could never be explained away by mass hypnosis, groupthink, brain washing or otherwise. This continues to this day where I see this happen every week, and am so encouraged by the family of faith and the power of the Christian message.
It’s a message that you belong. That you’re safe. That you’re accepted. It’s a message that takes a reality check and highlights just how far off the mark we are in life, unashamedly calling out the poor decisions we make in life, but despite what we’ve done, it shows us the way back home. You remain a son or a daughter despite the path you’ve deliberately chosen. It’s a message that shows us what I believe and have seen to be the greatest way to live, and it simply couldn’t be disputed the undeniable change that I’ve seen God and the advice and teaching of Scripture enacts in people’s lives.
Out of the many miracles that have happened, I’d like to share two that always stand out to me. One was a time when I had had a really difficult and painful conversation with someone late one evening, and really felt distraught and unsure of what to do next. I didn’t sleep very well and felt physically exhausted. One of my friends sent a text around the next afternoon asking who wanted to go see X-Men: First Class at the movies. I was feeling pretty awful and I knew I needed to get out of the house, and so I went to see it. When I got to the movies, my friend began to laugh his head off for some reason. Earlier that day, they had been out praying for people, and then one of them started drawing a picture. My friend thought it was so funny so he started drawing 5 o’clock shadow and a scar on the picture, and then they had a sense that this drawing was significant and someone who was associated with it needed prayer and encouragement. They walked around and couldn’t find such a person, until 6 hours later when I decided to put on the t-shirt they had drawn (also, beardless Matt alert):
I actually had another shirt ready to go for the day, and picked that one just as I was about to head out. Sonic’s face is faded in the same way the 5 o’clock shadow made it look, and my friend drew a scar on, not above, Sonic’s eye, in the same way that my shirt had a scratch. My friend prayed for me and gave me exactly the encouragement I needed to hear, beyond what he could have known on his own.
The second was a more recent occurrence. I had a pretty hard conversation again with a few people a few months ago and was feeling pretty low in life. I just had no idea what to do. At our church at Citipointe, we always take some time in our church services to pray for people, and I put my hand up for prayer. In that moment, I heard God speak to me – “this is your family”. One of my good friends took a photo of that moment and sent it to me an hour later, saying “I don’t usually take photos of people like this, but I thought I needed to – this is family”. This was the photo above. It was a powerful and emphatic reminder of the great support all around me.
That’s only two of hundreds of such occurrences in my own life, and thousands upon thousands I’ve been witness to in the lives of others.
I know I haven’t attempted to address logical questions or much about the state of physical evidence for the existence of God. Perhaps these are questions you wrestle with in your own life, and you’re not really sure where you stand on matters of faith. I would encourage you this Easter that those questions are important, and there are answers available. It doesn’t take very long to realize that not all truth that exists out there can be true since they’re all so contradictory, so I implore you to explore and to reason out and to search out the questions you have. Or perhaps you’ve felt distant from God, unsure, or confused – check some of the related links at the bottom of the page and throughout the blog in general, such as making sure not to miss the point of doing life with others. I think life presents us with some huge questions and I think it’s so important that we find the answers we need to those. This blog is an exploration of my own dealings with these.
And if you’re thinking of making a routine visit this Easter to a church in your area, I’d encourage you to do so with an open heart and mind. If you’re in Brisbane, our church called Citipointe has a fantastic, world class Easter production at all our different locations around the city. We attend the one in Carindale so you’re welcome to drop in and say hello!
So there you have it. The story of how Easter changed my life. The biggest decision I ever made, and one I continue to see the rich reward of every day of my life.
As we grow older and through the ups and downs, we can either let life make us better or let it make us bitter. Are you becoming a cynical person?
I would have to say this time in my life is one of the most up and down times I’ve been through. There really have been a lot of great things happening – so many new opportunities, so many great people in my life, fulfilling relationships and new ventures. It’s also been a time with a lot of other things happening around all that, quite a number of additional life pressures, high stress situations, and it’s definitely been one of those trying times in general.
It got me thinking about how easy it is to go through the hard times in life and allow them to shape our entire future for the worst. Instead of becoming better through our experiences, we can so easily dip and become bitter, angry, emotionally frustrated people.
The greatest issue is our ability to experience a complete loss of joy. Where once we may have been thrilled and forward looking in our lives, we can become twisted by the past and allow a single moment (or a number of moments) to define who we are.
And so I thought it would be a worthwhile exercise to look at how to avoid becoming a cynical person. I’ve mainly been thinking about this as a caution to myself, and I thought it would be worth sharing. We all know people who have allowed life to become a completely joyless procession, and have altogether halted in their aspiration or enjoyment. How do we avoid becoming like that?
#1: It all starts with pain
I used an image above from the timeless tale of Ebenezer Scrooge. I don’t think there’s a Christmas of anyone’s year that goes by where the classic tale by Charles Dickens isn’t revisited in one form or another. My favourite retelling includes Gonzo.
But it’s a story that’s repeated so often due to its human relatability. A young, enterprising business man, Scrooge is reaching success upon success in life, until one moment in his life where he has his heart completely broken. From that moment of heartbreak, largely caused by his relationship with one person, he becomes a withdrawn, self centred man, who cares nothing for the suffering or the situations of others, until he once again gets to experience the light of life through the perspectives of the spirits who visit him.
Pain has a profound effect in our lives. Pain reduces our IQ, and causes us to make decisions with less than our full mind. When we badly graze our knee, our whole body and perspective curls around the wound – much like what happens when we experience pain in other areas of our lives. All decisions become about protecting the area that’s been wounded.
I wonder what the pain is in your life? What moment utterly changed you, and was the beginning of becoming a cynical person? Perhaps it’s a number of decisions that you made, or that you keep making in present tense. I think removing our cynicism starts with correctly identifying and addressing its source.
#2: Where we dwell
Chris Hemsworth recently released a program called Centr, whereby he’s opened up and made his personal training regiments and meal plans available to the public. We’ve been trying the workouts and all the great healthy meal plans for a while now, and it’s been really great. Another aspect of the program, as is common in many fitness and wellness plans, centres around meditation and mindfulness. It is well known the benefits of calming your mind and taking control of your thoughts.
The Jewish people define meditation as what you repeat to yourself. If you watch any of the Rabbis at the Wailing Wall, you’ll see this in practice – certain prayers and statements repeated over and over out loud, completely given to focusing on the statements and Scriptures they have chosen to dwell on, until it finally sticks and becomes cemented in their hearts and mind.
What do you dwell on? What do you repeat to yourself? Is it wholesome? Or is it destructive? Sometimes we do ourselves a real disservice by going around and around the same thoughts, camping at the base of a mountain of disappointment and discouragement. And then we wonder why it’s so hard to move forward from that place. We have to make a decision to pack up the tent and move forward with our lives.
#3: When our automatic thoughts tend towards negativity
As someone who has struggled personally with depression, anxiety, and panic attacks, I can really relate to people who feel like they just can’t help it but be negative or disappointed. I think something that was really enlightening to me was the concept of neural pathways, which are physical electrical paths that get carved out in your brain when a new decision is made. After a new decision has been made and a new pathway has been formed, the brain will tend the pathways that have already been created before considering alternative options. A new decision or a change of mind involves the carving of a new path physically in your brain before it becomes easier for your brain to keep choosing the new option. We’re still making choices – it just doesn’t feel like it.
One time in a time of really bad, repeated panic attacks, my counsellor at the time offered a freeing perspective. He said, “Matt, the reason you’re having these attacks is because you believe that you are trapped with no way out. Are you actually trapped? Who is making you do those things?”. It was a real moment of healing when I realized that I was not as trapped as I had allowed myself to repeatedly choose to think, and that I had other options available. It didn’t change overnight, but there was my new pathway to form by making new choices over the automatic thoughts that had developed. Eventually, this new pathway became the default, and the negative and destructive pathways weren’t being automatically selected anymore.
Can you relate to me? If you can, I hope you will always be able to relate to my healing. You’re not as trapped as you feel like you are, and you do still have the ability to choose the truth of the good in your life.
#4: You have so much to look forward to
Friend, you have so much ahead of you. Negativity builds a stronghold over our heart and tries to stop us from seeing or believing that. We think our best days are behind us, and so we start becoming a cynical person with our disposition and focus aimed behind us.
Bitterness and resentment build and become our default behaviour when we’ve lost our view of a bright future. The Proverbs tell us that hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life.
So you’ve had to bury one of your dreams before. Physically, emotionally, mentally, whatever it may be. You’ve had to say goodbye to a future that can no longer happen. You went through a traumatic experience and suffered great loss.
But what about the other things that could still happen? What about the good things that could still be ahead of you? We’ll never see the good things while we keep our negative glasses on. In fact, we can ruin the potential for good things in our life by always filtering them through negativity and doubt.
To this end, I love this quote from RC Sproul:
Hope is called the anchor of the soul because it gives stability to… life. But hope is not simply a ‘wish’ (I wish that such-and-such would take place); rather, it is that which latches on to the certainty of the promises of the future that God has made
When you feel cynicism and negativity developed and dominating your life, cling to the promises of good made before you were even born. You were meant for more, and if you keep a healthy attitude, you’ll get there.
#5: Replacing a complaining spirit with a grateful one
I have quite a few friends in the caring industry (aged care workers, nurses, doctors etc.) and was introduced a few years ago to the concept of compassion fatigue. This is quite common in these sorts of professions where care is continually offered and given, with the caregiver eventually reaching a place of burnout. I read that one of the largest contributors to this condition is the negativity, complaining, or lack of gratitude being thrown at the person who is attempting to help. Our complaining and negativity can have a damaging effect not just on ourselves, but on the people around us.
Optimists see: A glass half full.Pessimists see: A glass half empty.
Chronic complainers see: A glass that is slightly chipped holding water that isn’t cold enough, probably because it’s tap water when I asked for bottled water and wait, there’s a smudge on the rim, too, which means the glass wasn’t cleaned properly and now I’ll probably end up with some kind of virus. Why do these things always happen to me?!
You know, I’ve seen in my own life times where I can feel myself going there. When work is hard and relationships get challenging and health things go up and down and life just goes for it, it can be so easy to become that last person, to adopt a victim mentality, to stay obsessed with a defeatist mindset.
But as soon as I allow my heart and then my mouth to go there, it just gets worse. You can’t worry and add a single hour to your life. It’s not from a place of wisdom that we become dominated by all the things that are going wrong at the expense of all the things that are going right.
In Becoming a People Person, John Maxwell says “If you don’t have peace, it isn’t because someone took it from you; you gave it away. You cannot always control what happens to you, but you can control what happens in you”. We have a choice – we can either continually complain about life, or we can have a spirit of gratitude. I love this quote from theologian Karl Barth I read a few years ago for an assignment: “Grace and gratitude belong together like heaven and earth”.
#6: Eyes of peace
As a husband, there’s a piece of Scripture that drives almost every decision I make, that I hold as a standard in everything I do. From the Song of Solomon, the wife of the king says:
Then I became in his eyes as one who finds peace.
I think the concept of having eyes of peace is absolutely breathtakingly beautiful, and such a high standard to try to live up to. But what a rich reward when we do. I absolutely love that this woman found freedom and peace in the sight of her husband, and I would love that to be true of me in how I live my life.
And I think when we start to become cynical, or we’re already there, we start to see others and even ourselves through eyes of hostility and contempt. Have you ever tried having a conversation with someone who sees you through eyes of contempt? It’s impossible. You can never measure up. Nothing they say registers correctly and it’s always put through a filter of doubt and negativity.
But when you see others through eyes of peace? Then people can do like what this woman did, and find great rest in our eyes. Are people freed when your perspective comes along? Granted, we can’t always get through to people, and some people have already made up their mind about how they’re going to be. But let that never stop us from seeing people through peace. And when you’re like that, watch how many people line up to try to talk to you. No one wants to hang out for a long period of time with Negative Nancy (sorry if your name is Nancy, it’s just an expression), but everyone wants to be the friend of the person with eyes of peace.
#7: Allowing joy to be our strength
The Hebrews finished an absolutely staggering task of rebuilding the long distraught Temple of Solomon. Following this construction, they were told that it wouldn’t be statutes that would be their strength. It wouldn’t be discipline. No, their strength would be found in joy.
I wonder what you think of joy? If this concept has become foreign or even one that causes you anger or discomfort, cynicism has likely already taken root in your heart.
Joy simply means my bad circumstances aren’t greater than the good news in my life. It means the damning views and cursing words of others aren’t more powerful than the great things that have been spoken about me. My troubled past isn’t greater than my brilliant future. That’s joy.
Guard your joy. Protect it with your greatest effort. Without it, you lose strength, and descend down the spiral of becoming bitter and senile.
One of my old pastors used to say that unforgiveness was like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. And while forgiveness can be ridiculously difficult, it’s necessary in order to allow your heart to move on.
What is forgiveness anyway? It’s simply releasing someone from their actions and future actions. It can come at great personal cost and doesn’t mean what happened was okay. It means you are released from what you will do, and you are released from what you won’t. That’s why you can forgive without an apology, because you are releasing them of their need to even ask.
Now, forgiveness and reconciliation are two different things. Forgiveness only takes one person – reconciliation takes two. It doesn’t mean we allow abusers to get off the hook, it doesn’t mean we continually put ourselves in unsafe situations, it doesn’t mean we’ve instantly fixed the damage that has been done or the flow on consequences of people’s actions. But what it does mean is that within our own hearts, they have been released and we’re deciding not to hold on to what they’ve done any more. We’re going to let it go. It is definitely the platform for reconciliation, but it’s finding freedom without it.
Who do you need to release in your heart today? Is it an ex? A husband or wife? Is it a friend, a coworker, an important figure in your life, an old friend, a group of people? Do you need to forgive yourself? Or would you rather hold your grudges and eventually die alone of a broken and bitter heart? You’ve been forgiven so much, will you return the favour?
Becoming a cynical person doesn’t occur overnight, but gradually, over time, after repeated disappointments and setbacks, after thoughts we continually dwell on. But I think it’s up to all of us to own our own heart attitude.
Do you feel yourself becoming more cynical? Can you see in your own life maybe where you have allowed negativity to dominate your mind? I know in my own life I have had, do have, and will continue to have reasons to become a cynical person, to fail to see a positive future, to obsess over the bad things in life. I hope you’ll join me in moving beyond cynicism and living a long life with a positive and life giving attitude, for our own sake, and the sake of those around us.
How about you? How do you avoid becoming a cynical person?
Engagement, marriage, new work, drastically different commitments, and a set up for a big future – 2018 was really a picture of life when everything changes.
I am writing this blog in week 51 out of 52 weeks in the year. Can you believe it’s already been another year? It can seem at times when all you have to do is blink and bam, you’re having to remember which number you’re supposed to write down in those date boxes again. A new year brings the hope of something new, whilst the end of the old year tails out on a somewhat sombre, reflective tone, as you remember the year that was.
For me, this year brought so many different new things and significant shifts, it was hard to keep up. It really was a year summed up by, “When Everything Changes”, or at least it will be when Universal approaches me for the working title of the movie they’re doing on my year this year.
But yes really to all the changes that took place in my life in 2018. I pretty much ticked off all the big milestones you’d ever want to do at the same time, and then some. This year:
I got engaged
I got married
I turned 30
I got a new job
I had my responsibility and role increase at the same job
I traveled to a country I’d never been to before
I finished up at a church I had been going to and leading at for 15 years
I made and deepened a whole bunch of new friendships this year
I got more involved in my new church
I got a hot new roomie (see #2)
I became a dog owner
My site is now approaching 500,000 visitors
…and that’s just a few of the things that happened this year.
Just for the record, this year has been an absolutely great year. It’s a far cry from the year I had last year. My wife is a wonderful woman, my dog is a crazy ball of happiness, my new job has been working out very well, New Zealand is gorgeous, and I feel like I’ve been set up for a lot of great things in the future.
I know I could easily sit here and tell you how much better my life is than yours at the moment, but really, there’s some serious work, effort, thought, and unfamiliarity that comes along when everything changes. It’s been great, but it’s been a real twisting journey with multiple things to consider at every turn.
And saying goodbye to some old commitments and ways of life wasn’t necessarily easily. My old normal is gone, and my new normal looks completely different. Whilst exciting and definitely the right step, everything looks new, and it really is uncharted water what happens from here. It was sad to say goodbye to a few of my past commitments in order to make room for some greater ones ahead.
It’s been a year of prominence. Things coming to fruition. Old things being replaced. And really, for anything new, old things do have to be replaced. As good as things were, as influential as the opportunities I have had in the past, as valid and rewarding as my previous work has been, as free and open as I maybe once was in certain ways, there really is much more I am now poised to be able to achieve in 2019 and onwards.
30 is a pretty prominent age. It sucks that so many people still feel like they’re a child by the time they hit 30 – still directionless, still wondering who they are, still trying to find regular routine and a place to call home – if you’ve done your 20s well, it really is a time of pronounced influence and to really ramp up the contribution to society. I look forward to being able to share my life in a more targeted and established manner based on all the experiences I’ve gone through, and to continue on addressing my Big 4 in everything I do (relationships, people finding purpose, Western poverty, and Christian leaders).
I think what’s really amazing about change, any change really, good or bad, certain or uncertain, happy or not sure about being happy, is that it takes a lot of it to make anything happen in life. One thing I really didn’t enjoy about change this year was that I needed to buy a new engine for my car. In my time of being sick, I had failed to look after my car properly, and it really was a process of trying to get it going. Man, if you’ve had car or any sort of maintenance issue, you’d know exactly how many moving parts those things have, and all it takes is one of them to be out of line to throw everything into jeopardy. And then once you’ve fixed one, you find the next little thing along. And the next. And the next. When you consider an engine is made of 30,000 little parts, you really get an appreciation for just how big a “little part” really is.
The human body is the same. Marriage is the same. Relationships are the same. My life is the same. It really was a year of remembering how many little changes need to happen for anything significant to ever take place.
And really, it’s amazing that anything of note ever happens at all. I wonder if you’ve thought about or appreciated just how many little things need to happen, how many tiny things needed to have taken place, for you to be the person you are today. If that person had said yes instead of no, if you hadn’t watched episode 13 on Tuesday of that week when you were 14 years old, if you hadn’t bumped into that person at the shop, if you hadn’t stopped for petrol last Friday, if you hadn’t been born into that family, if you hadn’t have made those friends, if you hadn’t have studied that course. Even your daily commute to work is multiple thousand people making multiple thousand little decisions based on multiple thousand little factors, and all of you still make it to work on time. Imagine all the factors that play into your life.
And what if you hadn’t made the choices that you did?
That’s a scary one. That’s a real two-edged sword that is your greatest source of happiness and the greatest source of despair in your life – the choices you make. I might be excited and happy with the choices I’ve made this year, but by the same token, when you think about your year, you may look back with utter regret and uncertainty. What on earth were you thinking? You knew better. Or maybe you didn’t. But if you had…
People talk a lot about change. Fortunately for me, 2018 was a year where everything changing meant things got a lot better. But I also had to make a lot of the right choices, and also choose to have the right perspective. There were a huge amount of changes this year that I could have perceived as a step backwards in life. Or a step over from where I could have been. But instead I have been able to understand that there is great strength in getting established in new seasons to be even more established as the seasons go on. I have seen that I couldn’t be the man I need to be without the people in my life who are in my life right now. I couldn’t reach the fulfillment I could without the commitments and the partnerships I’ve made.
I wonder if you can see your own life in the same way? That you can see how many little things have had to take place to get you to where you are now. And how many more little things it will take to get you to the place you want to go? That you could see the little choices that you’ve made along the way. And I think more humbling, that you can see the little things that took place in your life that were the hand of God preparing you to be the person you need to be.
A lot of people write in to me about how they’ve read something on one of my blogs about some paradigm changing piece of advice that’s changed their whole marriage or outlook on life. I think that’s absolutely brilliant. And yet the real truth is that the things that I reflect on and try to share aren’t my own idea. I am unashamedly a Christian, I unashamedly share the great wisdom that can only come from Scripture that consistently prove to epitomize the best way to live, and I can unashamedly say that this year, and the 30 that I’ve been alive for, prove and demonstrate the faithfulness of God.
When I look back on my life at the age of 30 and at the end of 2018, I could see how many horrible things have happened. I could be paralyzed and weighed down by things in my life you would possibly shudder at. And yet I can look at those things and say, it was good for me that I was afflicted.
I could look back on the good in my life and say that I wish it was even better. I could complain about my lot in life and wish that I got the income of Mr Zuckerberg or the fame of Mr Sinek or the good looks of Mr Jackman or have gotten married at a younger age or blah blah blah blah. And yet to do so would be to tarnish the brilliant gifts that have been given to me that I alone get to enjoy in the way they’ve been crafted for me.
And so I look back on my life and my year blown away by a verse I read during my birthday weekend when my wife took me away to Lake Baroon, one of my favourite places on earth, and these words spelled out exactly my story:
Be glad then, you children of Zion, And rejoice in the Lord your God; For He has given you the former rain faithfully, And He will cause the rain to come down for you— The former rain, And the latter rain in the first month. The threshing floors shall be full of wheat, And the vats shall overflow with new wine and oil.
And indeed, all I can see and say about when everything changes, is that God will always stay faithful. I can see in the times in my life when it wasn’t great, that He was faithful in being there for me. I can see at the end of a year of great achievements and love and wonder like this one that He has indeed been faithful in being kind to me. I can see that the places I am and the opportunities I have set me up for something even greater than I ever thought. And I can see that the new year ahead is indeed a year of new wheat, new wine, and new oil, symbolic of all those great things I could never achieve on my own.
I’m not sure where you find yourself at the end of this year, or whatever point in time you’re reading this. I’m not sure if you actually enjoy it when everything changes, or if you’re still waiting for things to get better. I’m not sure if you’re happy with or unhappy with the decisions you’ve made this year. All I can say is that it’s going to take a lot of little things, and indeed it already has, to get you to where you are today, and it’s going to take billions more to get you where you need to be.
And so I hope that you can look at your life, day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, and really see the little significant things that are taking place and that you’re having the opportunity to respond to. In the same way that a great structure is built brick by brick, pipe by pipe, cable by cable, level by level, layer on layer, so is the way your life is being built.
And what has been built so far is already a great foundation. A foundation for what? I’m not sure. God knows. I’m sure if you had enough of a look at your life so far you’d be able to work it out. Why not go on the adventure of finding out what the purposes of heaven have in mind for you, and make the decision to build something greater than you’ve ever been before?
So, how about you? How was your year this 2018? How do you deal with life when everything changes around you?
Heartache, sickness, that longstanding condition that just won’t leave you alone, or the unanswered prayer that constantly breaks your heart. Why hasn’t God healed me yet?
People go through all sorts of afflictions and setbacks in life. Some are minor, like learning your favourite barista has moved shops and you have to put up with the new one’s definition of cappuccino, missing the 10% off sale, or not being able to find where all your left socks are going. There are others in the moderate range, like being turned down for a date after you’ve met someone you seem to click with, or being passed over for a promotion you thought you might like.
Have you already missed the best person for your life? Have you missed ‘the one”? Or is your soulmate still out there?
If you know me, you know I always take note when someone mentions a greater struggle taking place in their lives. I seem to have some sort of a fascination with the bigger reasons behind why people do things, and some people have learned not to mention certain things around me because I’m likely to ask a lot about it. I’m also interested in why people don’t do things. I really find it hard at times to shake certain comments people make long after I’ve finished conversing with them. I tend to feel people’s thoughts, their fears, their regrets deep within my heart.
Case and point, today I was reminded of a few people who had talked to me on the topic of whether or not they had already missed “The One”. No, not that Jet Li movie (although I still really enjoy that one) – the ever elusive soulmate. Does such a perfect person exist for each person in the world, and if so, is it possible that I may have already missed my chances with them?
I remember such a conversation where one of my friends was looking visually distraught. “What’s wrong?”, I asked. “Well”, she said, “my ex is getting married today, and I’m finding it really hard”. I was trying to be comforting and was saying how hard it is when you have to watch someone who broke things off with you enter into a new relationship. She said, “No, I was the one who broke it off with him, and now I’m sad he’s getting married to someone else”. Continue reading