Beyond 9-5: Discerning Clarity in a Foggy World

phone-calling-in-the-past   Has someone ever asked you what your calling in life is?  People often make the issue of calling much more complicated than it really is.  Yes, calling is important and in some cases has profound significance as it may impact our vocation or even who our spouse is.  But it really doesn’t need to sound as scary or as difficult as it often does.  Below I’d like to highlight some really easy steps for figuring out what God is asking you to do:

  • Recognize What Gives You Life

What are you passionate about?  What wakes you up in the morning and energizes you to get out of bed rather than have a long lie-in?

Who are the people you like to spend time with the most?  What activities do you enjoy being a part of?  What social causes make your blood boil?  Do you find yourself instantly drawn to a particular culture, people-group, or age demographic?

It’s important to note that our passions are uniquely ours.  There is no “right” or “wrong” Christian answer.  For example, some Christian groups represent pastoral or missionary vocations as being the highest goal.  These positions are important, but God may not be leading you in that direction.  You may appreciate good preaching, but prefer to be quiet and serve behind the scenes.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

  • Recognize What You are Naturally Gifted At

What skills or abilities are you most proud of?  What opportunities have you already had to use those skills and how did it turn out?

Do you know what your spiritual gifts are?  What have others around you affirmed you in?  Has anyone ever told you that you are extremely patient or caring?  A good listener?  A talented musician?  An inspiring writer?  Do you agree or disagree with their observations (this isn’t about being proud or modest!)

  • What are Your Dreams and Life Goals?

Do you feel led to a specific geographical location?

Does the idea of learning a new culture and language excite or scare you?

Are you keen to be adventurous and explore the world or do you have marital and family obligations to remain at home?  (It’s okay if you do).  If you are married, your decisions and calling must be discussed with your spouse.  If you are single, your calling should be discussed with those closest to you who might also be affected by your decision.  Of course, it is possible that God may call you to something your parents disagree with, but you need to weigh the odds by asking yourself what you will gain and what you will lose from such a choice.

Some Thing to Remember:

  • God Will Never Call You to Do Something You Can’t Handle

When I was 24, God called me to be a missionary to people with learning disabilities in Scotland.   I love travelling and had already left North America multiple times by that point, but I was also really scared.  It’s okay to be terrified of the unknown.  You may worry you won’t fit in, make any friends, or that you will be incredibly lonely.  If you have a more practical mind, you may worry about the logistics like finances and visas.  Trust me, God would not call you to do anything you couldn’t tackle with His help!

I had several very difficult months before I became a missionary where I faced intense spiritual warfare, health issues, and financial pressure, but God also used that time to strengthen me and deepen my trust in Him.  Today when I reflect on my time abroad, I see how God divinely orchestrated everything from good team dynamics at work to a loving church family.  I’ve had many blessings abroad and I give Christ all the glory for them.

  • God Doesn’t Contradict His Word – He Isn’t Going to Call You to Do Something that Clearly Contradicts His Character

Here’s one example that I have seen even the strongest Christians fall prey to: you meet this amazing girl or guy.  They seem like the complete package: they are good looking, funny, loving, and make you feel great whenever you spend time together.  There’s only one problem: they aren’t a Christian.  Listen: it really doesn’t matter how attracted you are to them – the Bible is clear on this one.  No faith means no date which means no mate.  That’s the end of it.  It isn’t debatable.  God is not calling you to “flirt to convert” or to somehow lead them to Him.  That isn’t your responsibility or your role.  If you go down that path, you need to recognize that you will be playing with fire.

  • Sometimes Callings Change

Last week at church, a Singaporean missionary to a Muslim majority country spoke to us.  He related how God originally called Him to Scotland (already a different culture and out of his comfort zone).  He started his life here and was content, but he was in a rut.  Not a bad rut, mind you, but a rut nonetheless.  Then God called him to a completely different part of the world.

I can relate.  When I was 18, God called me to Toronto against my will, yet I grew to love  this city.  I stayed there until I was 24 and was content.  Even now, I would move back in a heartbeat.  My life in Toronto was always a fantastic adventure.  I had it all: I was popular – the kid everyone in the university knew.  I was excelling in all my classes.  I felt I was giving a lot and able to use my gifts and abilities to the best extent possible.  I had a great job, a loving church family, and the best friends a girl could ever ask for.  I even got a job offer (without looking for it) that seemed to be quite a good fit.  But there was a problem: I was in a rut.  I knew that Toronto was for a season – and what a splendid season it was – but I also knew that season was coming to a close.

When you receive a calling, it might be 100% legitimate, but it might be for a limited time.  In some cases, it could be for life, but definitely not always.  For example, God may 100% be calling you at this particular moment in time to be single – to focus on Him, not to chase guys.  But that doesn’t necessarily mean that for the next 30 years you need to take a vow of celibacy.

When you are being called to something new, don’t look back.  Read Hebrews 11 – if you look back too frequently, you might start idealizing the past.  You may start wanting to go back to your rut – DON’T!  There’ a reason God is calling you to this new adventure even if you can’t see it now.

  • God is More Concerned With You Being in the Centre of His Will Than You Are

Don’t become preoccupied with whether God is calling you to do this or that.  He gave you a brain and free will – use them!  If you are going in the right direction, God will confirm it by opening up the right doors.  If you are headed down the wrong path, God will convict you by closing the right doors.  Now, sometimes our heart stirs us to believe God is or is not calling us to do a certain thing because of our own fear or pride.  Often God calls us out of our comfort zones to do something we’d rather not do, but when we consciously make the effort to hear His voice, and when we spend time in His Word and in prayer, there’s generally no denying what it is we should do.

Discerning God’s will for your life might not always be easy, but it also doesn’t necessarily have to be complicated either.  By actively seeking out God’s will for your life, trusting Him to provide, and abiding in His Word – all things will be made clear to you.  Put your life in the Almighty and saving hands of Jesus, and you will find that the rest just naturally flows forth to usher in the greatest blessing.

 

Confessions of a Chronic Comparer

genesis-and-thesis-comparison-600x295  This will perhaps be the most raw, vulnerable, and honest blog post I will ever write.  Yet, from as far back as I can remember, I have had a love for words (both written and verbal).  This love has propelled me to become a writer, speaker, and preacher, and through it all, the key lesson I have learned is this: people connect to realness.  Therefore, I take every opportunity to pray and ask that God may anoint my words and that He may use me as His vessel to share from my own experience.  I hope that the following blog post may thus serve as an encouragement to you and enable you to find hope and healing if you struggle with Chronic Comparison Syndrome.

Since childhood, I have lived in a world of constant comparison.  Despite what many older siblings will tell you, being the youngest child in the family is not always easy.  When you have a big brother or sister who went to a school, church, or community group before you, was well-liked, popular, and excelled, you will always have to fill those shoes.  This is definitely what I experienced growing up.  My older brother is amazing.  He has a knack for science and technology, can figure out any math puzzle in a few seconds, and has an impeccable, though somewhat witty and sarcastic sense of humour.  He did exceedingly well in his studies, and the worst part is, it came so easily for him.  Of course, I do not resent my older brother.  He has been an incredible support to me throughout the years and has also helped me to excel in many ways.  However, I cannot help but feel a bit bitter towards how my school constantly measured me up to him.  You see, my brother and I are two very different people.  My brother is a left-brained genius.  His idea of fun was to be part of the robotics and trivia team.  He has lots of friends and can connect to pretty much anyone.  I, on the other hand, am more right-brained.  Since elementary school I have enjoyed being creative.  I’m terrible at art and drawing, but I thoroughly enjoy acting and poetry.  When I was 12 years old, I won an award for a pacifist poem I wrote on Remembrance Day, a few years later, I published my first article in a magazine, and now offers for freelance projects just stream in regardless of whether I am looking for them or not.  I did alright in school.  From childhood I had a passion for two subjects in particular: English and Religious Studies.  I did well whenever I saw the practical value of what I was learning.  I knew from age four that I wanted to be a pastor, and so any subject that would help me reach this goal was worthy of my full attention.  On the other hand, any subject that I was sure I would never need as a minister was less important to me (even today, I can vouch for the fact that I have never once used algebra or trigonometry!).  Additionally, I suffered from a slight, though somewhat obvious, learning disability that was not addressed until my last years of high school.  Apart from being hyperactive (not in the ADHD sense of the word), I also experience a mild form of dyslexia.  This is ironic because I have achieved so much as a writer, but to be honest, I didn’t know how to read in my head until I was around 20, and even today, whenever I write articles I have to write them while speaking the words out-loud.  Yet, in all of this, I still give thanks because God has used my disability in order to help many others.  In seminary, I was hired on as a writing tutor and instructor and because of my own struggles with academia, I was well equipped to encourage and support many students who found exams and essays challenging.

Although my struggles with being compared to my brother ended when I was 14 and attended a different high school than he did, I have continued to wrestle with comparing myself to others throughout the years.

When I was 18, I left home and attended a wonderful Christian university – Tyndale.  Tyndale was the absolutely best fit for me at that stage in my life.  I discovered new passions, was able to volunteer (and later get paid jobs) in areas that truly mattered to me, and had a large number of friends.  In fact, without bragging, I was one of those “popular kids.”  Almost everyone in the school knew who I was, and it got awkward at times because people would greet me in the cafeteria or hallway and I wouldn’t know their names.  Yet, I somehow found myself dissatisfied with my life.  Although I had been invited to plenty of events and activities and although I was never short of someone to have coffee or lunch with, that one bridal shower or one birthday party I was overlooked for sent me into a tail spin.  It didn’t matter whether I only knew that person on a casual level or whether I only spoke to them once or twice – not being invited equalled not being well-liked.  I can remember one day in particular when I was in my second year and hanging out in the student lounge.  I came back upstairs where my roommate was anxiously writing a paper and I proclaimed “I feel lonely.  I feel like no one likes me.”  My roommate looked up, clearly confused.  “How can that be?”  She asked.  “I just saw you in the lounge and every single person was talking to you.  I wish I could be that popular.”

I wish I could say that this problem was remedied by the time I got into my mid-twenties and grew out of these childish notions, but today, at 25, I know I still have moments when I compare myself to others.

We live in a world full of tension.  On the one hand, we are constantly being told that we are the best.  That we matter.  That we deserve whatever our heart desires.  On the other hand, we are told through media and advertising that there is something wrong with us.  There is a certain ideal that every man and woman needs to reach, and if they aren’t able to fit that mould, they are somehow faulty or worthless.  Even social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter can fuel this insatiable thirst for wholeness.  Mindlessly scrolling through your feed and noticing pictures of engagements, weddings, births, academic degrees, or vocational achievements can become a real battlefield for your mind and soul.

I know because I have struggled with these very thoughts throughout the years and it wasn’t until recently that I was praying and God showed me the real keys to happiness.  If you struggle with Chronic (and Constant) Comparison Syndrome, you are not alone.  There are many others like you who, whether or not they would admit it, wrestle with the same thing.  Yet, the only way you can ever break free of this cycle is if you find your worth in Christ.  It’s not easy, but below I’d like to highlight some of the ways God has taught me to have victory over this area of my life:

  • Finding Our Worth

Almost all of us have experienced a moment when someone said something (whether intentionally or not) that impacted the way we view ourselves and the world around us.  Maybe a teacher told you that you would never get into university.  Maybe a parent asked you why you couldn’t be more like your older brother or sister.  Maybe a pastor asked you why you have to be so rebellious and question everything.  These statements can linger in our hearts for months or years after the fact and they can be the root cause of our unhappiness.  Whenever things don’t work out, we can find ourselves asking: why can’t I just be like so-and-so.

Recently, I was going for a walk in the woods and reflecting on how much I compare myself to others.  God spoke to me in an incredible way.  Not only did He show me how I was looking for worth in the wrong places, but He also showed me how exhausting this futile exercise really was.

The truth is, if you are looking for wholeness and contentment in anything or anyone other than God, you will always be strongly disappointed.  No one else in the world can fill this hole in your heart that so longs to be desired and loved.

Listen: you are fearfully and wonderfully made.  God knew you before you were born and He loves you with an unquenchable fiery love.  You are a unique and whole person.  No one else in this world can take your place.  You have something very valuable to offer.  You may not think you are much – you may realize that there is someone out there stronger, more intelligent, or prettier than you – but God is calling you to something very specific that only you are capable of. 

We need to guard our hearts and take captive every lie the Enemy tells us – nailing it to the Cross of Christ.  Christ bore all of our sins and weaknesses, He took them on Himself and completely abolished the guilt that so prevalently influenced our lives.  To not trust Him and surrender all these negative feelings we hold, is to disbelieve in the saving work that He has already accomplished for us.

  • Prideful Insecurity

Finding my worth in Christ did not just occur overnight because of a one-off encounter in the woods.  It is something I am still learning how to do and because God is a patient and loving Teacher, He hasn’t (and will never) give up on me (or you!).

One day, God showed me that the reason I am always sad about not getting invited to events or being overlooked for positions I think I deserve, is because of both my pride and my insecurities. At first glance, this seems rather contradictory.  Pride and being insecure seem like polar opposites, but in reality, they are more interconnected and interwoven than we would have imagined.

My pride stems from the fact that I think I am entitled to certain things.  For whatever reason, I feel entitled to have lots of friends, to have my passions recognized, and to be seen as a leader.  Whenever this does not happen, I begin to feel insecure.  I begin to think that others are more well-liked than I am and that I deserve what they have.

Listen: Jealously and bitterness are deadly poisonous potions.  They wield incredible power and if left unchecked can destroy relationships.  No one wants to hang out with someone who is constantly comparing themselves to others around them. 

Have you ever met someone who looked like the complete package?  I know a girl like this.  She is smart, funny, and has a wonderful personality.  She has many friends, is super extroverted, well-dressed, and Godly.  Whenever I hang out with her, I have this sudden urge to compare myself and think about how I can be more like her.

If this has ever happened to you, you need to understand that you are probably making this man or woman your idol.  Sure, they might have many great characteristics and be someone you can admire or seek out as a mentor.  If so, that’s great.  But they are still a person.

Christ commands us to become more like Him not more like this man or woman you so look up to!  And if your friend is Godly and Christ-centered, they wouldn’t want you to become more like them, they would want you to find your own unique and God-given purpose (and they might be more than willing to help you make that happen).  The only way we can ever become more Christlike is to spend time with Him in His Word and in prayer.  That’s how relationships are formed – through constant contact and communication.  Our relationship with Christ is no different.  If we relegate Him to only Sunday mornings or Wednesday evenings, we won’t truly get to know Him.  We need to be fed daily from His Word.  If you were only allowed to eat one meal a day, would that satisfy your hunger?  Probably not!  It’s the same with God.  He isn’t looking for five minutes here or ten minutes there – He’s looking for an on-going and constant hang out session throughout the day.

  • Dump the False Humility

C.S. Lewis often wrote about true versus false humility.  Christians are taught that we should not be prideful or think of ourselves more highly than we ought, but that we should be of a sober mind when we judge ourselves.[1]  Yet, sometimes I have found Chronic Comparison Syndrome to be nothing less than false humility.

Have you ever met someone who likes to wallow in self-pity?  I knew someone like this.  Growing up there was a woman at my church who liked to complain about EVERYTHING.  It didn’t matter whether the issues were large or trivial, she felt a need to voice how unhappy she was about the sermon, the choir, or the colour of the church carpet.  Nothing made her content.  In fact, we used to nickname her “the complainer lady.”  You can imagine that such a person is not fun to hang around.  Would you like to become friends with a person like that?  A person who is always self-centered and telling you what’s wrong with this world?

Well, Chronic Comparison Syndrome can work in much the same way.  Even if we aren’t verbal about our thought process, others can pick up on it.  Don’t use comparison as a way to feel bad about yourself.  Don’t compare yourself to others out loud in hopes that someone will justify what you are saying with compliments (“oh, come on now.  You’re really not that bad.”  “Oh, but I read something you wrote.  You’re a fantastic writer.”).  And don’t get all bent out of shape if you are complaining about yourself and one of your friends turns around and agrees with you! This all stems back to the whole issue of pride versus insecurity.

 

Conclusion

We can all be guilty of comparing ourselves to others from time to time, but if you find that you are doing this constantly and that it is overwhelming your brain – you need to stop.  Don’t give into the lies the Enemy is feeding you about being less important or valuable than anyone else.  Find your worth and identity in Christ.  Nothing else can satisfy you.  Having a boyfriend, getting married, having a good job, getting a grant, getting published…. These can all be great things.  BUT if you are looking for them to fill you up, they won’t last.  They might be good temporary fixes, but they will leave you hungry for the next high.  Seek out the Scriptures.  Find out how God feels about you.  Then relax in Him.  He made you just the way you are for a reason.  It is only in finding and accepting that reason that you will become fully content.

[1]https://www.biblegateway.com/verse/en/Romans%2012%3A3

3 Things that I Wish Everyone Understood About Burn-Out

84827-80759 “You’re working too hard.  You have pushed your body to the point of exhaustion.  You need to take some time out.  You need to rest up, or else your body is going to revolt.”  I will always remember these words spoken to me last summer by my doctor as I sat on the examination table anxiously awaiting results from some tests.  2014-2015 was a crazy year for me.  I was working three part-time jobs, volunteering with adults who have learning disabilities, doing some freelance writing and leading a children’s group that met during school breaks.  On top of all this, I had an hour and a half commute, was taking 5 master’s level courses, and was trying to maintain a rigorous social life.  I hated the idea of missing out on gatherings and I wanted to continue being part of so many activities, but unfortunately my body had other ideas.

At first, the effects were barely noticeable.  I found myself getting tired more easily, but I attributed it to long hours of homework.  I found myself getting anxious and irritated, but I blamed it on the terrible Toronto traffic.  My friends started noticing that I was becoming more distant and started saying I wasn’t so much fun to hang around.  A few of them were seriously worried about how I was going to cope with all the pressures I was facing, but I felt they were just being over-cautious and over-protective.  After all, I had taken a course on Self-Care in Ministry and I was sure that I now had the arsenal to fend off any form of burn-out.  It ends up I was wrong.

In the summer of 2015, just months before heading off on my oversea’s adventure, I noticed things in my life were just not right.  I was doing a full time pastoral internship at a wonderful and loving church.  I was also taking a full course load to complete my master’s degree.  In other words, I was working over 40 hours a week, still volunteering at least 5 hours a week, and also in class another 12 hours of the week (not including all the homework and assignments).  I started feeling dizzy.  My legs felt faint and my head felt funny.  I had no energy and even a simple task like lifting a light box caused all my muscles to ache.  I went for a number of blood tests.  The doctor thought something must be medically wrong and cautioned that I should get everything checked out before I headed abroad.  Everything came back negative.  Medically there was nothing to worry about, but emotionally there was.  My doctor recognized that what I was experiencing was sheer burn-out.  She told me I was doing too much and that if I didn’t stop, the symptoms I was experiencing would only get worse.  She told me there was nothing I could do to reverse these symptoms except listen to what my body was telling me and to try to make some healthy lifestyle changes.

We all have a story.  We all have moments when we feel we are giving our all, but there is nothing left to give.  We all have days when we go into work and our hearts and minds are in a different location altogether.  That’s normal.  But when you start thinking these thoughts all the time, when others around you start noticing your attitudes are shifting, and when you yourself can pinpoint a change not only in your emotions, but in your physical state as well – that’s when it’s more than likely that you have moved from the Monday blues into an utter state of burn-out.

You see, we often think that burn-out is for other people.  Our culture prides itself on being busy.  It has almost become a badge mark of courage to list all the things you have going on in your life as if it’s a competition: who can be involved in the most activities, who can be involved in serving on the most committees, and who can be the first to tackle that new business project.  So the idea of having to slow down in order to really listen to our bodies seems almost foreign to us.  Other people can’t cope with stress as well as we can.  Other people may turn to addictions, affairs, and apathy, but not us.  We are perfect and we will continue thriving in this fast-paced life.  But allow me to let you in on a little secret:

It can happen to you.

That’s right – you.  Jim, Joe, or Janet Brown.  Burn-out is no respecter of persons.  It can happen to anyone at any age or life stage.  It happens to professionals and parents.  It happens to students and teachers.  It happens to pastors and parishioners.  Sometimes it sneaks up on you steadily, other times, it sneakily grabs you by the collar.  But once it’s there: it forces you to take notice.  It forces you to realize that something is seriously wrong.

But why?  You may ask.  I absolutely love my job.  I am doing great in my organization and get along with everyone in the office.  Listen:

You can still get burnt out even if everything seems to be going well.

We live in a culture that always tries to be happy.  People don’t like hearing complaints and they don’t really want to know how you are doing or what you are thinking or feeling.  That’s why when you lean into a friend and say “hey, I’m starting to feel burnt-out” or “hey, I’m feeling a bit depressed” they may automatically think you are complaining about your job or your life.  In reality, that’s not the case.  Many people who have faced burn-out do love their career.  They feel it’s where they should be, they feel like they are contributing in positive ways, and they feel like it is their calling.  But you need to understand this:

Oftentimes it’s exactly for those reasons that people feel burnt-out.  A lot of times, people feel burnt-out exactly because they are passionate.  They like to give their all.  They want to make sacrifices for their ministry or for their company.  They truly care about the cause and they are willing to see projects through to completion.  In my experience, burn-out is far more prevalent amongst the persistent rather than the pessimistic, the genuine rather than the pretenders.

Burn-out is definitely a challenging position to be in.  It makes you feel like all the energy is completely sucked out of your body.  It makes you feel like you are a different person – as if you are going through the daily motions but outside of your own body.  It may feel like this never ending cycle of frustration and agitation will never end, but you need to know:

There is hope.  Burn-out is not forever.  It will end, but first you need to learn how to prevent it from coming back.

Everyone experiences burn-out a little differently.  Some people seem to get over it rather quickly once a new project they are passionate about comes along, other people may need to take a sabbatical in order to properly recuperate.  If you have a history of  mental illness, it is so important that you seek help so that your burn-out does not escalate into a deep, dark depression.  This does not always mean you need to go see a professional, but you definitely do need to be surrounded by close family and friends during this time.  You may find it helpful to reach out to others who are in different work settings than you are and who can give you a whole new perspective on your profession.  You may need to revisit your life dreams and goals or simply to start saying no to a few things at work.  It can be difficult at first, especially if you are the type of person who never likes to let anyone down, but you need to understand that you are a priority.  You cannot serve from an empty vessel – your team and work environment will benefit far more when you are “alive, alert, awake, and enthusiastic” (to quote a favourite camp song).

So where do we go from here?

Although each person is different, everyone can benefit from recognizing their own unique signs and symptoms of burn-out and stress.  If you are feeling burnt-out, recognize that it is completely normal.  There is nothing wrong with you or your job.  Don’t be afraid to say “I’m burnt-out” but then don’t stay there.  Figure out whatever you need to do in order to get out of that rut – spend time with friends, learn a new skill, take up a hobby.  Realize that life is so much more than just your career and strive to become a more well-balanced person.  Once you do that, you will soon discover that your mood is happier, people enjoy spending time with you more, and the burn-out is gone.

How to Wait Well (Reflections on My First Initiate Hub Seminar)

When-Being-Single-Just-Feels-HardHas God ever promised you something that didn’t end up happening?  The question completely shocked me and immediately drew my attention away from unpacking my suitcase in the London hotel room.  Instead, I found my eyes fixed on the television screen where a televangelist was asking this somewhat confounding question.  To be honest, I do not remember who this person was.  I had never heard his name before and likely will never hear of him again.  But this one-off encounter of having the TV on solely as background noise ended up being one of the most spiritual experiences I have received over here in the United Kingdom.

Before you get too caught up in thinking this man was contradicting the Scriptures which clearly indicate that God is not able to break His Word because faithfulness is His very character (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+89%3A8&version=NIV) let me explain.  The preacher was actually saying that everything God promises to us will happen.  The difficulty is in the waiting.

We live in a fast-paced culture.  With our high levels of technology, people often expect a reply almost immediately.  I know I am guilty of this as well.  I often leave my cell phone and Facebook messenger on for almost 24 hours a day in hopes that the minute someone responds to my query or status, I will immediately be able to respond back to them.  It has now even gotten to the level of me installing the Facebook app onto my smartphone in order that I can save those precious two or three seconds it previously took me to boot up my WiFi.  However, God does not work like that.  There have definitely been moments in my life when God has responded quickly and given me a very direct answer almost as soon as the question left my mouth.  But there have been many other times when I have had to patiently wait for His promises to be revealed to me.  Never has this been truer than in waiting for my future spouse.

I will spare you the personal testimony here, but I will gladly mention that I am in the same place many of you might find yourselves in.  I went to a Christian University where the majority of my friends got married between the ages of 18-21.  Now that I am 25, it feels like nearly all of my friends are not only married but have at least two or three kids.  It can sometimes feel like the church places more pressure on singles than the general society does.  Sermon illustrations are often picked from the garden of marital and family scenarios which singles often can only relate to at a superficial or hypothetical level.  In particular, pastors love illustrating the concept of intimacy with God through the lens of intimacy between a husband and wife which may make single people feel somehow inferior in their spiritual walk compared to their married counterparts.

Additionally, there has been an insurgence of Facebook posts and articles that say little in the way of helpful advice to single people.  Oftentimes these articles suggest an extreme sense of bitterness and loneliness on the part of singles, are written by someone who has no concept of what it means to be single because they got married in their late teens or early twenties, or else extols singleness as the best possible option in a way that seems almost impractical.

For this reason, when one of my good friends invited me to an Initiate Hub* seminar on the topic of “Waiting Well” I was a bit cynical.  I envisioned a group of twenty-somethings gathered around a lecture hall moping about how everyone was married except them.  I imagined the speaker to be someone who was happily married with children trying to provide some level of sound wisdom all the while being clueless about what this culture really needs to hear.  It ends up I was wrong on both accounts.

When I first entered the Eric Liddell Centre where the seminar was being held, I was immediately greeted by several friendly faces.  My first thought was to realize that I was likely the youngest in the group.  Each woman was smartly dressed, well spoken, and had a lovely personality.  I ended up talking to the speaker, Margot Rea – a local Edinburgh pastor who originally hails from America, for a bit all the while not realizing she was the presenter because she was so personable and appeared to be in the same position the rest of us were in.  Surprisingly, the complaints were kept to a minimum.  Of course, there is a healthy need to express discouragement or even resentment, but the participants and the speaker were more focused on the overall picture of seeing ourselves as the beloved of God.

As a single pastor herself, Margot, spoke to us in a way that stirred each one of us into deeper contemplation and graciously invited gentle conversation.  Margot shared incredible wisdom and insight into what it means to be a single woman living in a society that is preoccupied with relationships and love all the while teaching us what it means for us to become more preoccupied with God.  Due to the length of this blog post, I will not be able to share all the wisdom I gleaned from this seminar; however, I would like to highlight three topics in particular which I hope will be encouraging to you:

  • Waiting Does Not Mean Doing Nothing

If you are like me, you hate the idea of waiting.  You hate the concept of wasted time and you hate being stuck in an Edinburgh traffic jam.  When I lived in Toronto, this was even worse.  If you have ever travelled to or lived in Toronto, Canada, you are well aware of the congestion problems we face.  If you leave your house anytime between 4-6pm you are destined to spend about two hours stuck in traffic moving at a snail’s pace.  When I lived in Toronto, I very much considered this to be “dead time” and often spent it mindlessly listening to music or an audio-book all the while reminding myself of how much homework I still had to do.

We can feel much the same way when we are single.  We may regard our singleness as “dead and wasted time” when in reality it is a perfect opportunity for God to create a rich and vibrant garden.  Singleness is not a curse, instead it is a wonderful chance to get to know ourselves better, to pour into the lives of others and into our ministries, and to do things for ourselves that we want to do and that would foster a healthy sense of adventure and achievement.

But of course, this is all easier said than done.  It is vital to know the importance of waiting until God’s timing, but it is quite another to know how to properly nourish that time.  What I recommend is finding things that breathe life into you.  Finding ways to develop a stronger relationship with God and with close friends.  Exploring ways to pour into the life a local church congregation and to build a community that spans across age or gender divides.  During this time of waiting, it is helpful to begin to ask ourselves what our life goals are and to make decisions for ourselves that are not contingent upon having a significant other in our life.  We need to do what pleases God – not solely what we think might please our future spouse.

  • Recognize the Pressures, But Be a Conqueror

When I was a teen, I used to do an online labyrinth where we were asked two important questions: 1) What are the noises on the outside?  Identify them and place them to the side.  2) What are the noises on the inside?  Identify them and place them to the side.  Today, over ten years later, I still try to use this same format when I am practising being still.

There are many voices in our culture that dictate what it means to be a man, what it means to be a woman, what it means to be single, and what it means to be married.  At first glance, it may seem that society is more accepting of singles than Christians are, but in reality, both simply place different expectations on the other person.  Don’t feed into the lies that culture places on you, feed into the truths of Christ.

Adolf Hitler once said, “If you tell a lie long enough, loud enough, and often enough, people will believe it.”  But this is true not only on the macro, but also on the micro-level.  What we tell ourselves about ourselves impacts not only have we view ourselves, but also how we view the world.  For example, if you constantly berate yourself and say that you are ugly or unintelligent or unworthy of love, you will begin to see yourself as nothing more than a worthless and wasted vessel.  You may begin to view men in the same way and think that a Godly man would not desire you because of your past mistakes.  That’s why, we need to start at the root cause of our anxieties.  We need to be proud of who God has made us to be and express our identity as His son or His daughter.  As His prince or His princess.

Different things can lead us into the mentality of comparing ourselves to others.  For some it could be reading certain books or watching certain movies that portray relationship ideals which are essentially unattainable.  For me, my greatest vice is Facebook.  I love Facebook dearly because it is the most convenient and practical way to communicate with friends and family back in Canada, but it also poses a huge threat.  When I scroll through multiple Facebook feeds and notice all the pictures posted about engagements, marriages, and births it can be easy to fall into the temptation of thinking I am the only single person on the face of this planet when it reality that is simply not the case.

It’s not that social media, books, or movies are inherently bad in themselves, but when we use them to foster negative thoughts and images about ourselves or our relationship status, that is when grave danger occurs.  Instead, we need to be properly nourished by the sound counsel of others.  We need to seek out the advice and input of those more mature in their faith including men and women who have done amazing things for God while being single.  If even after all of this we still find ourselves unable to change our mindset, we need to be willing to consider seeing a spiritual director, pastor, or Christian counsellor who may be able to provide us with tips and suggestions on how we can work at rewiring our minds with the truth of Christ.

  • Don’t Settle For Less

Being single can be one of the most exhilarating, adventurous, and independent times of our lives.  It can be a wonderful experience and give us opportunities we never dreamed of.  However, it can also be an intensely lonely, difficult, and bitter season.

If we find ourselves unable to cope with the loneliness, grief, or depression such a season can cause, we need to be able to explore our emotions (by ourselves, with God, and with trusted friends and family), be able to practice good self-care, and be able to find strategies in order to live well.

Loneliness can tempt us to do many foolish and wreck-less things.   This is where it becomes important to guard our hearts.  Don’t let loneliness dictate how you will live your life.  God created us for relationships and for community.  It is important and necessary to have friends and people you can confide in, but the most vital relationship should always be the one we have with God.  It can be easy to use friends as a substitute for God.  I know I am certainly guilty of that at times.  God does desire us to be able to trust friends, to share in mutual encouragement, and to grow deeper in His truths together, but ultimately if we find we are quicker to pick up the phone and dial a friend when things get tough rather than hit our knees and cry out to Him that’s when we need to reconsider our priorities.  We also need to guard our friendships.  If it ever looks like a friendship is becoming one-sided and dominated by the problems or opinions of one while the other’s emotional and relational needs are virtually being ignored, we need to ensure this relationship is not being one of co-dependency and poor boundaries.  A friend is not there to solve all of our problems, but rather to help point us to the One who can solve those problems: the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

Additionally, in this time of waiting, it can be easy to try to fix our problems on our own.  We may notice that typically more women than men attend church and we may begin to think that it wouldn’t be so bad for us to date or marry a non-Christian as long as he is respectful of our beliefs.  However, the Bible gives us fairly clear guidelines which are non-debatable that Christians are to marry one another (not outside the faith).  By God’s grace, Christians do occasionally lead non-Christians into the faith; however, more often than not, non-Christians lead Christians out of the faith.  Regardless, an intermarriage between two different philosophical and theological viewpoints often times leads to additional challenges, burdens, and difficulties which are less likely to be prevalent within relationships where the same viewpoints are held.  Most importantly, you must realize that if you do marry a non-Christian and they never come to faith in Christ, this will not only have consequences within this life, but also for eternity.  This is where I disagree with the traditional wedding vows.  For while I do believe we should love our partner in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer, for better or for worse…I do not believe that this is only applicable “until death do us part.”  Rather for any Christian couple, the vows should actually read “until death physically separates us, but even after that because our spirits will be in the same place.”

When we know the truth of Christ and how He never fails to act on His promises in His perfect timing, there is no reason to settle for less.  There is no reason to settle for the man or woman God did not ordain for us since the dawn of creation, there is no reason to settle for cheap and temporary escapes and fixes such as pornography, drunkenness, or casual sex, and there is certainly no reason to settle for the lies Satan can feed into our lives about never being a complete and whole person.  Because at the root of who we are: we are complete and whole in Christ alone, not because of any person.  Singleness does not make us any less or any more of a person because when we were created, we were already whole.  And it is only in understanding and appreciating that wholeness that we are spiritually and emotionally healthy enough to receive a partner from God.  Otherwise, we will always place demands on our partner that God alone is able to meet.

A Final Word: We often spend our lives focussed on others, when in reality, our heart is our own responsibility.  We are told throughout Scripture to guard our hearts.  That’s because God knows how vulnerable, weak, and immature we all have the ability to be.  But He also knows that there is really so much more we are capable of and by trusting in Him, we find wholeness and contentment.  Rather than making a list of the characteristics we hope our Godly husband will have, we need to think about the characteristics we need to have in order to be a Godly wife.  We cannot expect our significant other to do anything we ourselves would not be willing to do in order to grow deeper and more intimate in our relationship and walk with the Lord.

I am so thankful to Initiate Hub for hosting events and seminars like this one.  I was truly blessed by the loving community and new friends such a seminar fostered and I look forward to attending similar conferences in the future.

 

** Initiate Hub is an organization which helps single Christians connect with one another and grow deeper into the truths of who God is and what it means to live in this season.  Check out their website here: http://www.initiatehub.com/**

Discovering Discrepancies: The Mistreatment of Adults with Developmental Disabilities in the Legal System

court   Note: This article first appeared on the following website:  https://pjsnpeacesigns.wordpress.com/2016/03/31/moving-beyond-ableism-discovering-discrepancies-the-mistreatment-of-adults-with-developmental-disabilities-in-the-legal-system/  with an abbreviated version published here: http://www.stateofformation.org/2016/04/discovering-discrepancies-the-mistreatment-of-adults-with-developmental-disabilities-in-the-legal-system/.

 

I will always remember the headline in the Toronto Sun newspaper on February 3, 2012: “Toronto police shoot and kill man with scissors wearing hospital gown.”  The day was like any other.  Crisp, clear, and likely well below the freezing point.   A quiet, snowy residential suburb in Toronto, Canada was just waking up and starting its day when suddenly a man appeared out of nowhere holding two pairs of scissors in his hands.  The man was wearing nothing more than a hospital gown and clearly seemed confused and in a daze.  Reports later confirmed the fact that he had somehow made his way out of the psychiatric ward of the local hospital and down the street.  Nevertheless, instead of using a calming influence, the police acted out of instinct, shooting and ultimately killing the man.

Questions were raised concerning the police force’s brute violence, failure to address the man’s mental health issues or request aid from health care professionals, and about why the man left the hospital in the first place; however, four years later, these questions have still not been answered conclusively.  What I do know is that this was a turning point for me in my understanding of disability awareness.  Before reading this shocking article, I had never thought much about the way people with disabilities interact with the legal system.  Today, I realize that having a developmental disability or mental illness significantly disadvantages someone from receiving the support and counsel of the legal system they deserve regardless of whether they find themselves in the role of victim or offender.[1]

 

Our View of Victims

It almost goes without saying that people who have developmental disabilities are more susceptible to experiencing crime done to them than the general population.  The reasons are numerous: lack of ability to fully communicate or withdraw consent, inability to fully express one’s needs, or difficulty exerting physical restraint on an offender to name but a few.  Even more disturbing is the fact that media and society in general fail to acknowledge the severity of the crimes committed against people with disabilities and downplay the detrimental effects such actions can have on one’s personhood.  Most notably, Leigh Ann Davis a social worker for The Arc (an American organization which seeks to safeguard adults with developmental disabilities and provide legal resources for them) commented on the fact that committed crimes are often referred to as “abuse” or “neglect” rather than “rape” or “murder.”[2]

In the United Kingdom, a recent magazine article was published entitled, “Justice is Served, Unless You’re Disabled” in which author Ryan Kyle addressed the stunning fact that while all other forms of hate crime have decreased significantly in recent years, violence towards people with disabilities has increased by 20%.[3]  Kyle further argues that when these crimes are committed, people with disabilities have nowhere to go for support because few lawyers will take on such cases and of those who do, not all are within the law themselves.[4]  Realizing the disparity of justice in this situation, Kyle urges his readers to take action, to educate themselves, and to raise awareness on these matters among the general public.  He writes with conviction, “Failing to recognize or address discrimination and hate crimes against disabled people doesn’t make it go away – it only increases its odiousness.  More atrociously, it serves to make it appear somehow benign or to be expected when it happens.  That its existence and repetitiveness does not make it noticeable or create demand for it to be wiped out is a sad fact.”[5]  He adds, “Justice needs to be done and to be seen to be done, not just for the individual but for all the individuals coming after them, and for the kind of society we are striving to be.”[6]  In particular he raises the issue of childhood bullying and the lack of support kids with disabilities face and asks the question: what is this teaching our children about the way we interact with those who are different than us?

In the United States alone, statistics point to the fact that people with developmental disabilities are 4-10% more likely to be victims of crime than those without a disability.[7]  Children in particular are over three times more likely to experience abuse, and some statistics claim that as many as 90% of children with disabilities may be bullied within the school system. [8]  Our society definitely has a long way to go in how we respond and relate to such horrifying evidence of mistreating those who already find themselves marginalized.

Observing Offenders

According to research done by The Arc, while people with disabilities comprise only around 2-3% of the American population, they account for 4-10% of those who find themselves in prison.[9]  The Foundation for People With Learning Disabilities (FPLD), a U.K. initiative suggests that as many as 7% of adult prisoners in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales have an IQ of under 70 and another 25% have an IQ under 80 whereas up to 60% of prisoners have difficulty communicating.[10]  The FPLD further acknowledges the legal system’s lack of clearly explaining the reasons for arrest and trial in many situations and the inability to locate proper support systems to guide someone with a developmental disability through the rigorous legal process.

For someone with a developmental disability, involvement in committing a crime is not always what it seems.  In many cases, people with disabilities may be unknowingly used as accomplices by those they rely on for support such as parents or carers.  They may also unknowingly leave a crime scene prematurely, feel intimidated by the overwhelming police presence and thus confess to crimes they did not really commit, or pretend to understand their legal rights in an attempt to cover up their disability due to shame or fear.[11]  Furthermore, although the death penalty is not permitted for people with developmental disabilities across the U.S., it is still largely the responsibility of individual states to determine what qualifies as a disability.

Finding Fairness

While countries like the U.S., U.K., and Canada still have a long way to go in terms of making our legal system more accessible for people with disabilities, we are starting to move in the right direction.  Organizations such as The Arc, and the Big Issue (both of which have been quoted in this article) identify and address the issues surrounding the unfair treatment people with disabilities face and urge their readers to also raise public awareness.  While one person alone cannot effect massive change, it should be our individual responsibility to determine how we will treat everyone with respect and equality.

We need to be conditioning our children from a young age to see everyone as a unique and whole person created and loved by the Creator.  We need to ask our churches to raise their voice and address such matters openly. We can consider reading up on these issues and lobbying our government.  We do not have the time and space to be silent any longer and passively watch injustice taking place.  As the body of Christ we are called to act and to act now!

[1]“Toronto police shoot a kill man  with scissors wearing hospital gown,” February 3, 2012, http://www.thestar.com/news/crime/2012/02/03/toronto_police_shoot_and_kill_man_with_scissors_wearing_hospital_gown.html

[2] “People With Intellectual Disability in the Criminal Justice System: Victims and Suspects,” August 2009, http://www.thearc.org/what-we-do/resources/fact-sheets/criminal-justice

[3]   Ryan Kyle, “Justice is Served Unless You’re Disabled,” The Big Issue, February 22-28, 2016, 38.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid

[7] http://www.thearc.org/what-we-do/resources/fact-sheets/criminal-justice

[8] http://www.thearc.org/what-we-do/resources/fact-sheets/criminal-justice

[9] http://www.thearc.org/what-we-do/resources/fact-sheets/criminal-justice

[10] “Criminal Justice System,” N.D., http://www.learningdisabilities.org.uk/help-information/learning-disability-a-z/c/criminal-justice-system/

[11] http://www.thearc.org/what-we-do/resources/fact-sheets/criminal-justice