March 15

The Banks of the Yarra and the Kindness of God

When people ask what I do for a living, I usually answer, “I’m a Graphic Designer… for a Funeral Company.” It gets a good reaction. I go on to explain that if you go to a funeral and receive a thank you card or an order of service, or watch a photographic tribute on the screen during the service… that’s the sort of stuff I do. The snazzy title for my job is a “Tributes Consultant” and I work for Tobin Brothers Funerals.

I love the job. It not only uses my creative skills, it’s not only a stable full-time income with a good company, but it’s also an industry that really serves people in their time of need and deep grief. I’m very grateful for finding such a great job and now I’ve been doing it for exactly one decade. Yup, ten years ago today, I had my first shift at Tobin Brothers Funerals. So today, on my 10th anniversary, I thought I’d share the wonderful story of how God gave me this job.

God’s Sovereignty and Our Decisions

I say “God gave me this job” not because I think my boss had no part in the decision (I actually rang him today to thank him for employing me 10 years ago), nor because I think I had no part in getting it, but I believe that the decisions that we make are both our responsibility and simultaneously under the sovereign will of God. The bible teaches that God is at work in and through and over our decisions.

In Genesis 50:20, when Joseph confronts his brothers who sold him into slavery and faked his death, he says to them: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”  The same event is described as being born of two separate intentions from both the brothers and God.

Likewise, if you read the epistle written by James, Jesus’ brother, you’ll find this instruction:

“Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.'” (James 4:13-15)

So we can make plans, but we should do it with the awareness that God’s will is ultimately the final authority as to what will happen. We are responsible for what part we play, but God is ultimately in control. Now, that idea may seem like a bit of a mystery or even a logical paradox, but when you’re talking about an infinite spiritual Being who created the universe and exists outside of all of its elements and limitations, then I am ok with there being a little bit of mystery in how the whole dynamic fits together.

Back in 2007

Ten years ago, I was in a very, very difficult place in my life. A year earlier (in early 2006), my wife had kicked me out due to my ongoing struggles with pornography. I was in the process of getting help to work through my addiction and grow up as a bloke and as a Christian, but her heart and trust in me was shattered and so after a year we were no closer to reconciliation. I didn’t know at the time that our painful separation would go on for another two and a half years before she would eventually file for divorce. At the time, I was literally spending every day agonizing about how I might win her heart back and prove to her that my repentance was genuine. One of the things I knew I had to do, was hold down a steady job. This was a sign of maturity and a quality important for a godly husband who was supposed to provide for his family.

At the time of the separation, I had just finished a directing job in my role with my Christian theatre company, The Backyard Bard. But once the separation happened, I took a step back from that ministry and so, I became unemployed. I got odd jobs here and there and eventually landed a 100% commission job doing direct marketing sales for a company representing various charities. This was bloody hard work. Some days you would work your butt off and not make one sale. And no sale meant no pay.

Fortunately, I became ok at the job and after 8 months I was still at it. I earnt pretty good money too. It was hard, soul-crushing work where every day I put myself out there and faced rejection after rejection… but that sort of mirrored what was happening in my marriage, so I guess it taught me resilience to some degree!

The problem was, the company I worked for was part of a pretty evil, money-hungry corporation that had a “pyramid scheme” type of hierarchy. I could see they were trying to groom me to step into leadership and develop my own team of sales minions, but I really wasn’t interested in turning into what I saw the managers became. So when the Christmas break of 2006 came (which was only a week), I knew it was time to at least consider looking for other work.

Seek and You Shall Find

I jumped on seek.com and looked at what was being advertised. I had an interest in graphic design, but I had two issues. One, I didn’t have any official qualifications. I didn’t even know how to use Adobe Photoshop at the time! The other problem was that, as a Christian, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to work designing advertising for companies that I might morally object to.

So, I wasn’t all that hopeful, until I stumbled upon an ad from Tobin Brothers Funerals. They wanted someone to join their department called “Memories and Tributes” creating all the stuff I mentioned earlier.  They didn’t specifically require graphic design qualification (they have since changed that policy), and so I felt it was perfect! I never dreamed of working in the funeral industry, but hey, why not? I’d be serving people and doing some good in the world, and the work sounded creative and interesting. At least it was worth a shot.

So I filled in the form on seek.com and sent off my resume. Then, a few days later, my sales job resumed. I had gotten a confirmation email saying that Tobin Brothers had received my application, but after a week or two of hearing nothing I decided to show my interest and give them a call. This did not go well. The lady I spoke to abruptly said something like, “Yes, we have your application, and we will get back to you if we are interested.” This was really disheartening. I thought I would show them my enthusiasm and that might win me points, but it had backfired. She seemed more annoyed than anything. (I have since learnt that the person I spoke to gets hundred of phone calls a week from overly keen people wanting to work in the industry and so she just deals with interested people via email, but at the time I had thought I had blown it.) After that, the days went by and I heard nothing, which confirmed my suspicions. The hope of finding other work seemed dashed and so back to the grindstone I went.

Death of a Salesman

In the sales company I worked at, you had to always be in a hyper-positive mood. It was one of those “high five everyone in the morning to get pumped” cliche environments. But with my marriage still in tatters and a major lack of job satisfaction, that became harder and harder to do. This took its toll and my sales began to suffer. Big time. I went literally a whole week without making one sale. That was crushing, and my boss wasn’t happy. See, after 9 months at the job, he used me as a trainer and an inspiration for the others in the team. So when I was flat, the others began to go flat as well.

One day, we were set up at Flinders Street Station, trying to get passers-by to stop and consider signing up to support World Wildlife Fund, and I was trying my best to keep my energy up, but it was like walking through treacle. It got worse and worse and eventually my boss, seeing how I was failing in my role as his model salesman, took my name badge and told me to go on a break.

Break I did. My heart was broken from my wife’s rejection and my spirit was broken from my constant failure, and so I broke down in an emotional sobbing mess as I walked away from Flinders Street Station and down by the Yarra River. I sat down on the grass by the water, praying to God, asking him what I should do.

You see, I used to have this principle that you shouldn’t ever leave a job, unless you had another one to go to. This was especially relevant to me at a time in my life when I was trying to woo my estranged wife. She already didn’t want anything to do with me, I didn’t want to also be unemployed.

I wasn’t sure what God wanted me to do. Should I leave the job because I knew I couldn’t stay there long term? Or should I buck up, get my crap together and work harder to get my sales back? Was this the job God willed for me, or did he have another? And how could I know what God’s will was? I definitely didn’t want to be out of step of his will. That would surely lead to more failure and misery. But if I didn’t know which path was God’s will, how would I avoid that disaster? These were the thoughts that were tearing through my heart and mind as I prayed in my own private inner Gethsemane – my soul overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death as I cried to God, “Yet not my will but yours be done!”

The Kindness of the Father

Eventually, I rang a guy who I had become friends with through the support group I was attending to work through my struggles with porn. I told him about my dilemma and my utter terror of living out of step with God’s will. I knew the fate of my marriage was ultimately in God’s hands and so I was afraid of stepping out of line or disobeying his will (even unknowingly). I thought that if I did everything God wanted me to do, then – and only then – would God bless me and my marriage.

After hearing all this, my godly friend said: “Simon! Don’t worry so much! God is your heavenly Father. You’re his child! He loves you no matter which decision you make. Even if he does have a plan and you make a wrong choice, he will use your mistakes. Just try to make the best choice you can and let God look after the rest.”

His words, honestly, were life-changing. They exposed my faulty understanding of God and how his will worked. The revealed to me my “works-based” confusion about who God blesses and why. And most importantly, they reminded me of the kindness of God. If I am in Christ, then God is my Heavenly Father and he is kind. I don’t have to overly stress about seeking his will if it is unclear. I don’t have to fear confusion or doubt or ambiguity. I just have to be his child, trusting him and walking with him as best as I can.

Now that I have a daughter (from my second marriage), I understand that message even more. She just needs to hold my hand and walk with me. If there are unseen dangers, I have her back. If she wanders off, I will look for her and find her. I don’t want her worrying about whether or not she is out of step with my will in order to secure my blessing and love. She is my daughter. I am God’s child. And knowing the Father’s kindness should give us peace. As Jesus said: Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:9-11)

The Leap of Faith

I was comforted by my godly friend’s council, but he hadn’t actually told me what I should do… other than trust in my Heavenly Father. So I walked back to Flinders Street Station, grabbed my name badge and tried to get back into work. My mind was still full though with questions and reflections, so the rest of the afternoon was a write off for sales. As I left for the day, my boss pulled me aside, clearly still disappointed with my lack of performance. “Simon,” he said, “I want you to go home and think about whether this job is really for you.”

All the way home and into the evening, I struggled with what to do. In the end though, I had to answer my boss’s questions honestly. No, the job wasn’t for me. I was happy to keep working at it if that was God’s will, but in the absence of a clear instruction from God, I simply had to make a choice.

I had to give up my principle of never quitting a job if you have nothing to go to. I entrusted my needs to the kindness of my Heavenly Father, grabbed my phone and gave my boss a call…

“Hi. It’s Simon. I’ve been thinking about what you asked me, and I think it’s not fair to you or me if I stay in the job.”

“So, you’re quitting?”

“Yeah I think that’s best.”

“Well, I thought you were better than that Simon. But if you want to just give up, then I agree. You should go.”

His harsh words stung as we ended the conversation, but I knew I had done the right thing. So that was it! I was unemployed! I’d taken the leap of faith trusting that God would provide me my “daily bread” and eventually guide me towards some other work. I also trusted that being unemployed would not railroad whatever God was doing in my marriage. God was my Heavenly Father and I placed my life in his hands.

So what was next? I didn’t know. I didn’t have any prospects or other options. It had been over two months since I had had that disheartening phone conversation with Tobin Brothers and I had not heard a peep since, so I had given up on that and faced an indefinite season of unemployment. How would I survive? Well, I had a little bit of money in the bank and so I thought, I’d have a break for a week or two and then I would get back into looking for a new job. It may take a while, but I knew other Christians facing long-term unemployment, and so I knew God could see me through it as well.

That night I went to bed at peace with my decision, remembering my friend’s words: “Just try to make the best choice you can and let God look after the rest.”

New Every Morning

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.'”
(Lamentations 3:22-24)

So I woke up the next day, staring into the great unknown. I had my breakfast and began to enjoy my first day of “holidays”.

That was when the phone rang…

“Hi, this is Wendy from Tobin Brothers Funerals. May I speak with Simon Camilleri?”

“Yes, I’m Simon.”

“Hi, Simon. Sorry that it’s taken so long for us to get back to you. You applied for a position a few months ago. Are you still interested?”

“Ah… yes.”

“Great! When would be free to come in for an interview? Do you have any time on Monday?”

“Actually, I have LOTS of time! I just quit my job last night!”

I immediately regretted saying that last bit in case it made me look bad, but I was so blown away I couldn’t help but express it! Literally the morning after I quit my job, I get an offer for a new one! I truly believe that God orchestrated the whole scenario. He could have easily gotten Tobin Brothers to contact me a day or two earlier and if he had, I would never have faced that spiritual dilemma on the banks of the Yarra River. I would have quit my job without ever needing to question whether I truly trusted God. But like a loving Father, God wanted to teach me something important. God let me get to a place where I would see my need and how dependent I was on his provision. God wanted to challenge and refine my trust. God wanted to teach me to rely on him as my Heavenly Father and to find my confidence and security in his kindness rather than in my employment.

So once that lesson had been learned, he could then let Tobin Brothers give me a call. True, I decided of my own will to apply for the job and I decided of my own will to quit my sales job three months later. True, Wendy from Tobin Brothers decided of her own will to give me a call on the next morning. But the fact that my quitting and her calling came only hours apart, was a message of God’s kindness and sovereign provision that I could not miss.

I Didn’t Get the Job

Now, just because God miraculously provides a perfectly timed job interview, is no guarantee that you will get the job. Just remember that if this same thing ever happens to you!

Over the weekend I had seen the Will Smith movie “The Pursuit of Happyness” which tells of a man who does not take his opportunity for employment for granted, and so inspired by this, I did everything I could to prepare for the interview. Not only did I put together a graphic design folio (as best as I could), but I even studied the philosophy of the company and committed to memory their company motto of the 6 C’s: Care, Competency, Contemporary, Creativity, Community and Celebration.

I went in prepped and I was called back for a second interview, giving me even more confidence. Though I didn’t have the graphic designer qualifications, I think I made up for it in my attitude and genuine desire to serve people in their time of need.

Despite this, I didn’t get the job.

It was between me and another girl and she had a bit more experience in graphic design than me, so she got it. Fair enough, I guess. But I was, as you can imagine, disappointed. Tobin Brothers was disappointed too actually, and they said, although they didn’t have a job for me in this department, they’d still like me to join their team as a Funeral Director’s Assistant. This would not be a creative job at all, but I thought, maybe this is how God was getting me to where he wanted me to be. So I said I was interested.

There was just one problem… They didn’t actually have a Funeral Director’s Assistant job available. They just would like to keep me on the books to consider me if one of those roles ever came up (which they did now and then). They understood that I was looking for work and that by the time there was an opening that I may have found another job, but they said, “That would be our loss.” What a nice compliment!

I didn’t help me with my unemployment situation though and I remember my parents quickly encouraging me to not be disheartened, to “get back on the horse” and to look for other work.

But I didn’t.

It wasn’t because I doubted the wisdom of their encouragement. I just sensed that God was doing something with this Tobin Brothers job. I just felt like God was saying, “Just wait Simon. I have something in store for you.”

I didn’t have to wait long. A few days later later Tobin Brothers called me back saying that the lady they hired decided that the job wasn’t for her and they asked if I could start pretty much straight away!

10 Years of Gratitude

So that’s how my job at Tobin Brothers Funerals began. I started my first shift on Wednesday, 14th March 2007, and I can honestly say after 10 years, I am still incredibly grateful to God for his provision.

In the last 10 years I have faced a lot of experiences that have challenged my faith and deepened my trust in my Heavenly Father. The most devastating came around 2 and a half years into my time at Tobin Brothers, when my wife eventually decided to file for divorce. That event raised many more questions for me in terms of the sovereignty of God in the midst of our suffering, but that is for another blog another time. What I can say is that as I went through the divorce, I did remember that moment on the banks of the Yarra and the way God had provided for me with such wise timing.

The wonderful way God had provided my job at Tobin Brothers taught me about his sovereignty, his wisdom, his comfort and his kindness. Lessons that I think God knew I needed to learn before greater trials than unemployment came into my life.


Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

“Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Luke 12:22-34

  (1104)

Share Button
September 1

Pain, grief and the muck in the lake

Recently, some of the deep pain I experienced during the breakdown of my first marriage has resurfaced and I am going through a journey at the moment to process some of this pain and see what God has for me to learn through it. It has been over five years since my divorce, and it is around 8 and a half years since my first wife and I separated. God has done great healing in my heart over many of the griefs associated with the end of my first marriage, including providing me with forgiveness and grace for my sinful part in what caused it to collapse. Even so, many years later, I am still working through the pain, trauma and wounding that the long period of separation brought into my life and heart.

I once heard an analogy about pain and grief that has stuck with me and continues to ring true to my experience. I thought I’d share it with you.

Pain is like muck in a lake. As the waves settle after a traumatic event, it may seem like the water becomes clear and still, but often it is just that the muck sinks deep down to the bottom of the lake and rests there for a while. We might know it is there, but the clarity of the still waters is so refreshing it is better for a time to let it be.

Digging worms2Sometimes we might be tempted to go digging around in the deep part of our lake looking to dislodge the muck that needs to be dealt with. We might be worried that we are simply avoiding pain and keeping it repressed and that that would be unhealthy. Sometimes that may be true, but generally, I would discourage digging around in your pain. God knows the right time and season that we are prepared to work through our grief. The most important thing to do is keep seeking God and listening to his Word and letting his Spirit convict you and teach you and guide you.

Psalm 139 is a great reflection for this. Verses 1-4 says: You have searched me, Lordand you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely.” God knows our hearts so much better than we do. He knows everything that is going on at the bottom of our lake and he knows when and how we should deal with it. Rather than digging around trying to dislodge something you might not be ready to deal with, the best thing to do is to pray the words at the end of Psalm 139: Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

Seek God and always allow him to search and lead you. God knows when it is the right time for the muck to be brought up from the bottom of your lake. He may do that directly through the prompting of his Spirit, or he may do that through life circumstances. God is sovereign over every part of your life. He will use an event or a conversation or some interaction as a stick that goes down into the water and stirs up the muck at the bottom. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, you may suddenly feel overwhelmed with the pain and emotions you thought were long gone, or at least, deeply buried.

When this happens, don’t fight it. In fact, see it as God’s kindness as he has sovereignly allowed for this muck to be stirred up at this time rather than any earlier when you may not have been able to deal with it. When the stick of life stirs up the muck in your lake, know that God probably has some healing in store for you. The important thing is to not ignore it. Let yourself feel the pain and be free to express it without embarrassment. The water that just recently looked so clear and still, now is swirling around with brown muck. It is unpleasant. In fact, it is really shitty. You may just want the pain to end, but don’t ignore it. This is just a season that you have to go through. Give read-holy-bibleyourself some time and make space in your life to allow God to do his work. Spend time in prayer and the study of the Bible, seeking God for what he wants you to reflect on or realise. Journal, draw, write, paint or even blog about what you are feeling. Talk through it with a wise and godly friend who can sit with you in your pain and continue to point you to the truths of God as they become relevant. It may be worth seeking professional counselling or meeting with your minister to give yourself the time and space to work through the pain.

Most importantly, keep bringing your muck to God. As it is dislodged from the bottom of the lake and comes to the surface, scoop it out and give it to God. Allow the truths of his Word to speak into your pain – to vindicate injustices done, to correct lies we believe about God, ourselves and others, and to remind you of the promises of God’s redemptive work, both in this life and especially in the New Creation, where God says, He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)

Then, as God brings you healing, insight, comfort and redemption, eventually that season will end. The waters will calm down and once again they will become still and clear. God will not have removed all of the muck. He knows us and knows how much of the process we can take. As he allowed the muck to come up, he will also allow some of the muck to sink back down. Be content with this. Not everything will be dealt with at once, and even if you spent your whole life in daily counselling, not everything will be dealt with in this lifetime. Pain and loss are a part of this broken world, and it is only when Jesus returns that this “old order of things” will have fully passed away.

Pain is like muck at the bottom of a lake. It is messy and unpleasant. It takes time to work through. It makes us long for the New Creation.

For me, in this season of swirling, muddy waters, I am daily feeling the pain of griefs that hurt me years ago. But I am also going through this season with great hope. I know that God loves me and will walk me through this time. I know God will not allow me to face anything that would completely crush my faith and joy as I keep putting my trust in him. I also know that God will do powerful and redemptive things through this time. I’m actually looking forward to it. The healing may be small. It may not deal with everything. But it will be exactly what I need for this time and this season. In that hope, I can walk through the pain rather than avoid it.

In fact, in the midst of this pain, I can scoop out the muck in my lake with joy.

a-man-looking-across-a-lake-into-dawn-kish

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

(2 Corinthians 4:6-18)

(2665)

Share Button
March 8

Having Helpful Hard Conversations (Rules 6-9)

 

This is Part 2 of my 3-part post on “Having Helpful Hard Conversations”.

If you have not read Part 1, click HERE and go through it before reading on.

If you have read Part 1, before we tackle Rules 6-9, here is a refresher on Rules 1-5:

RULE #1: Love
Have an attitude of selfless love before engaging in conversation.

RULE #2: Choose the time and the place
Be wise and thoughtful about when and where you should talk.

RULE #3: “This is not going to come out right…”
Allow yourself and the other person freedom to talk it out.

RULE #4: Actively Listen
Really listen and make sure the other person feels you have heard them.

RULE #5: Be grateful that something hard was brought up
Before responding, thank them for their trust and honesty.

 

20131027-140026.jpg

Ok, let’s get back into it! Here are Rules 6-9 for having helpful hard conversations.

RULE #6: Trust their motives

If there exists little to no trust between two people, it is basically impossible to have a helpful hard conversation. If you believe that the other person is completely two-faced and you can’t believe a word that comes out of their mouth, then how will you be able to follow any of the other rules I have outlined? You may listen to their words, but your filter of mistrust will interpret them to simply be insincere, manipulative or deceptive. You will think, “Yeah, that’s what they’re saying, but I really know what they mean.” Both parties have to at least trust that the other person (deep deep down on their best day) is trying to engage in a helpful conversation. Without that trust, the whole thing collapses.trust-torn

Now, it is true that trust can be validly lost and that people need to work hard at earning trust when that happens, but I have also seen many times a hard conversation descend into an argument or not be able to start at all, simply because one person didn’t trust the intentions of the other. Now, in each of the situations I am thinking of, the non-trusting person had a valid reason to be skeptical of the trustworthiness of the other, but they fostered that mistrust and would not let it go. They were committed to not trusting the other person and this meant that the other person just didn’t have a chance. No matter how much they might try, the mistrusting person would look for any little sign that might justify their lack of trust and they would pounce on it! Lack of trust is poison to having helpful hard conversations.

Now, this may not be so obvious in your heart. You may need to reflect on whether you don’t really 100% trust the intentions of the person you are going to talk to. It may be subtle or rooted in deep pain or long term disappointments. It may be completely valid or it may be mixed with your own bias and self-defensiveness. Either way, it needs to be addressed if a helpful hard conversation is to be had. Firstly, you can be honest with the other person and share that you are having a lot of trouble trusting them. This may give them an opportunity to ask for a chance to just be heard out or to see what can be done to help build that trust before the conversation takes place. Secondly, you may need to repent of your lack of trust. That may sound a bit harsh, but if the person is not completely untrustworthy, you may be judging them unfairly by not giving them a chance. Not trusting someone is a defence mechanism – we use it to protect ourselves from not being hurt or mistreated. Sometimes it is very valid and sometimes it simply prevents us from moving forward and showing grace to people. Sometimes it is better to put your mistrust aside and make the conscious choice to trust the other person – or at least give them the benefit of the doubt. When you go into a hard conversation with a commitment to trusting the other person’s intentions, you will be allowing the other person to stumble through their words even if they potentially hit a nerve. You will think, “I can’t believe they said that, but I’ll trust that they are at least trying to engage”. This will allow you to have grace and patience and a listening ear.

RULE #7: Stick to the topic

bullseye

This is such a useful rule and one of the first ones I ever learnt – You can and must only have one hard conversation at a time. During a hard conversation, it is important to be clear about what you are talking about and ensure that any other issues that you may want to bring up – however important and valid – must wait for another time.

People bring up multiple issues during a hard conversation for three main reasons:

1. It may be that you actually have a few things you want to discuss (ie. The rude way your partner spoke to you the other day AND the fact that they’re always late). If that’s the case, even if all the issues are valid, it may be loving and wise to bring them up one at a time. Otherwise, the other person may feel overwhelmed and respond either by shutting down or getting aggressively defensive.

2. It may be that you only start with one thing that’s on your mind, but it is the catalyst that brings up all the other things you find frustrating  (ie. “You don’t help me when I’m tired. Like the other day, I came home with the groceries and you were talking to your mother. She bugs me sooo much! I can stand the way she always criticised me.”) Now the lack of help and the criticising mother may be both valid issues worth discussing, but you have to stick to one topic at a time. 

3. The third reason people bring up another topic is when they are wanting to defend themselves from the main issue being discussed. If the conversation is hard or is getting a little heated it is very easy for someone to raise a new issue in an attempt to strengthen their case, make the other person look bad and ultimately “win” the argument. For example, one person says, “I’m really worried about how much debt we’re in. We need to discuss your money management.” Then the other person says, “Money management? You’re going to talk to me about managing money? You can’t even manage your drinking! What was that the other night at my parent’s place? You were so embarrassing!” “Well, maybe I wouldn’t drink so much if your family was less awkward!” And with a few sentences, three completely different issues have been brought up and the hard conversation is going nowhere helpful. Often the change of issue is more subtle than this, but hopefully you get the idea.

At times, it may be very hard not to bring up a different issue into the conversation. Like if someone wants to talk about a petty issue with you, when you’re really upset about a much more important issue that you want to bring up with them. But the goal of these rules is making sure you have helpful hard conversations. There are exceptions of course – like if your partner wants to discuss your nose-picking habit after you just found out they were cheating on you – but generally, you must only bring up one issue at a time. This rule needs to be something you both really agree on, so that at any time in the conversation, no matter who is “in the right”, either one of you can say, “Now, that’s a valid issue but that’s not what we are discussing right at the moment.” When this rule gets broken (as it often will in a hard conversation), you both need to be free to alert the other to the fact and you both need to respect it when it gets alerted.

RULE #8: Avoid absolute language

When we are having a hard conversation we often express ourselves in an emotionally charged way. Sometimes colourful or exaggerated language can be useful to get across an idea to someone who is downplaying the issue. Jesus even used “hyperbole” in this way at times (for example, “If your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away.” – Matt 18:9) But exaggerated language can also be used unfairly and will often inspire people to become defensive.

The most common examples of absolute language is “You always”, “You never” and “You are”.

“You always/never” statements get used to express frustration about an ongoing behaviour (such as “You always leave the lights on!” or “We never go out any more!”). The problem with these sort of absolute statements is that they are just too easy to reject (ie. “If I always leave the lights on then every light in the house should be on now!” or “That’s ridiculous! We went out last month!”) It is wise to avoid these types of statements. Partly, because they just encourage the other person to feel justified in their behaviour because you’re obviously being over the top, but also because, when all is said and done, these statements just aren’t true.

If you want to be accurate and truthful, it might be best to say something like, “The last few nights, you’ve been leaving the light on” or “We haven’t gone on a date for a couple of weeks.” Even a statement like, “I feel like we never go out anymore” is much more productive because, although it is still an exaggeration, it is a statement about how you feel – which is something that should be acknowledged and addressed.Dunce-cap

“You are” statements are even more unhelpful. To bring up an issue and accuse someone of not just doing something, but being something, is an approach you want to be very careful about. Consider these statements: “You’re so lazy.” “You’re a liar.” “You’re so stupid sometimes.” “You’re disgusting.” “You’re a real dissappointment.” “You’re a terrible person to live with.” These are statements that can be easily thrown around during an emotional discussion, but they can hurt very deep. To say “you are” is to make a conclusion about someone’s character and identity. It is to define them. We may do this in order to strongly get our point across, but sometimes a lot more can be unintentionally communicated. The person you say it to may hear that you think that deep down they really are that type of person. You have now labelled them. The ironic thing is, once you label someone, there is actually a greater chance that they will continue in that behaviour. You see, they may actually believe the label you have given them, and once that happens, there will almost be a valid justification for them to act accordingly. If you call someone “lazy”or “stupid” or “disgusting” why would they change their ways?

The gospel has a completely different strategy. Those that turn to Christ are given a whole new identity. They become new creations! Who we are in Christ is defined, not by our present behaviour, but by the person God is turning us into. As Paul writes in Colossians 3:1-10…

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.”

Do you hear how he instructs Christians to change their behaviour? Paul doesn’t say “you are sexually immoral, lustful, evil, greedy idolaters.” No, he says that a Christian’s “life is now hidden with Christ in God” and because that new identity is true, then we should live it out and “put to death” and “rid ourselves” of anything that doesn’t fit that new identity. Sometimes we think a person’s identity is defined by their behaviour, but often the exact opposite is true – people’s behaviour will be shaped by whatever they believe about their identity. Now this point may seem like a bit too deep theology or psychology for a discussion about how to have hard conversations, but it’s worth keeping in mind. Avoiding absolute language is a useful rule for keeping the conversation respectful, honest, kind and productive.

RULE #9: Allow absolute language

yellow card.jpgHaving said all that, you have to be gracious and allow absolute language now and then. Not in yourself. No, you should keep to this rule as much as possible. But if you’re in the midst of a heavy, hard, heated discussion and someone says, “You never listen to me!”, instead of pulling out the yellow card, you should probably just listen.

Go back to part 1 of this blog series and read the first few rules. If you are showing love (Rule #1) you won’t attack the person for breaking the rule about not using absolute language. If you accept Rule #3 you won’t expect it to “come out right” and so you’ll half expect the other person to use extreme or unreasonable words to try to express what they’re feeling. If you follow Rule #4 you’ll be focussed – not on the absolute language they just used – but on what they are trying to communicate and you’ll be doing more listening than reacting.

It’s funny to have a rule that straight up contradicts the one before it, but I remember that the Book of Proverbs – that ancient book of wisdom – often does the same thing. Like Proverbs 26:4-5…“Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him. Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.” There is often great wisdom in finding the balance between two rules. In regard to having hard conversations, it is wise to be very careful what words you use, and at the same time, be gracious with other people (and yourself) if this rule takes a little practise to do naturally.

That’s true for all “rules” really. Rules are important and they keep us from hurting ourselves and others. I am convinced that we all followed all 13 rules I will outline over the 3 blog posts I will write, we would have much more helpful hard conversations. But we all are imperfect and we all need time to grow into new patterns of behaviour. I know I still have a long way to go before all these rules become second nature to me. So make sure you have a bit of grace and patience with people and with yourself as you grow in all this.

Now, I think I’ve written enough for you to chew over this time.

Rules 10-13 are about how best to “finish” a hard conversation, so I might leave that for another post.

Here’s what I will be covering:

RULE #10: Be ok with ending the conversation unresolved

RULE #11: Respond with what you both understand and what you will both do

RULE #12: Pray

RULE #13: You both have to be more committed to the rules than the conversation

I hope some of these Rules you have found thought-provoking and helpful.

Please write your comments and thoughts below!

For a bit of a laugh, here is Brad Pitt explaining his “rules” for the art of conversation.

  (1923)

Share Button
March 5

A “blogette” on Re-defining Marriage

I really want to write more on the topic of same-sex marriage. I have been formulating many thoughts on the issue and keep thinking a blog post would be way too long! I posted this comment on my facebook wall today. It seemed almost long enough to post as a short blog. Maybe it’s more of a “blogette”. Anyway, it starts the ball rolling and hopefully before the year is out I’ll write something more substantial.

Funny-definitions-marriage

The issue of same-sex marriage is really about definition. It’s not about equality or prejudice or homophobia or human rights. It’s about how you define and understand marriage.

I would say, many people define and understand “marriage” as simply a public declaration of love. With that definition, I totally understand why it seems silly or cruel to not allow ANY two people who love each other to do it. Though, if that’s all marriage is, I am curious as to why polyamorous love, or love between siblings, or love between an adult and a minor, or even love between species is looked on with such distaste and prejudice. Love is love, isn’t it? Isn’t it up to the individual to define it, if that’s all that marriage is about.

The reason why Christians who believe in the Bible find it very difficult to condone or support gay marriage is simply because we have a different definition of what marriage is about. For us, marriage is a covenant. A spiritually significant, re-defining bond that God created, honours and holds us to, even if we are not Christians. It is a big deal for God, reflecting in the spiritual and sexual union of a husband and a wife the union of the Godhead itself and the unique relationship between Christ and the Church. It is a sacred, serious, joyous and powerful covenant that is supposed to create the safe environment for new life to occur and be nurtured in. It’s not simply about love, as if “love is all you need” and then when you fall out of love you just divorce. Marriage is meant to be life-long. It is the place where the “two become one”, spiritually, relationally and sexually, until “death do us part”. This is found in the teachings of Jesus, and throughout the Old and the New Testaments.

If this is true, then if I am asked whether or not I think the definition of marriage should be changed to fit one that I believe is against God’s definition, how could I? As a Christian, I am not a free agent. I am a follower of Jesus and therefore and subject to his Word. I can understand, from a different worldview, why you would want me to change my definition, and I will not try to stop you from arguing your case and fighting for the change you want, but I can not join you.

In Australia, we most likely will one day have a legal reality in which same-sex couples express their love for each other with a term called “marriage”. It will not be a big deal if that comes to pass in my opinion. In the minds of most people, the definition of marriage has long since been about something different to God’s original intention.

But for a Christian (at least one who submits to Christ’s lordship and the authority of Scripture), marriage is and will always be something created by God, designed by God and consequently defined by God. (1850)

Share Button
September 27

Porn – The Elephant in the Room

Porn

Most Christian guys struggle with it.

Many are stuck in it.

Hardly any talk about it.

For countless Christian guys (both married and unmarried) their struggle against pornography is turning into a losing battle.

Believe it or not, porn addiction is the number one sexual issue that the church is facing today. It is destroying marriages, hijacking ministries, and slowly but surely making the majority of guys feel weak in their faith, distant from God and disqualified from useful service.

Porn itself is ridiculously accessible, powerfully addictive and full of lies and illusions about men, women, sex, God and where we can find our identity and ultimate fulfillment.

One of the biggest problems as I see it is that although porn is the “elephant in the room” for most guys – we very rarely talk about it. Even with our close friends or mentors, how we are going in the area of sexual purity outside of marriage, and sexual faithfulness inside marriage, is one taboo that we often steer clear from. It is often too full of shame, regret and confusion and we convince ourselves that we don’t need help or we can do it alone by sheer will power.

We need to develop a culture where we can easily talk about this issue, not because like the rest of society, we don’t think it’s a big sin, but because we have experienced the grace of the gospel, and so that grace can be extended to all those who trust in Jesus. We should have no shame in bringing our sin into the light and when we do we should experience no condemnation from our brothers in Christ, because as Romans 8:1 says, “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” 

Helping Christian guys who struggle with porn and building a culture of grace in the church is one of my greatest passions.

If you didn’t know I also run a ministry and a website (that needs a lot of work!) called “Elephant Room”.
Check it out here.

I thought I could also put on here links to the talks I gave at a recent “Elephant in the Room” Night.
It includes my own journey with porn, some advice in tackling it in your life and an extensive “Question and Answer” session.

Feel free to download them for your personal use.

If you wish to use them for ministry purposes or to publish any quote from any of the material, please contact me first at: simon@elephantroom.info

TALK ONE: The Elephant and My Story.  (7MB,  45 minutes)

TALK TWO: The Five A’s of Battling Pornography.  (6.6MB,  49 minutes)

TALK THREE: Question & Answer Time.  (4.4 MB,  36 minutes)

(3307)

Share Button
July 3

What’s in a Ring?

This is my wedding ring. I designed it myself and it holds a lot of symbolic meaning for me. I thought I’d share it with you.

Firstly, a wedding ring for me is a powerful symbol. If you’re not into rings, or you just think they’re another scam of a materialist culture (like diamond engagement rings), that’s totally fine. The meaning I give wedding rings is totally my own. I don’t base it on any Bible verse or spiritual insight, but I do believe that ritual, traditions and symbols (even when humanly invented) are very powerful things. Also, I think socially, there is a sense that wedding rings do communicate that someone has made the commitment of marriage. I know women who, when they meet a guy, will immediate take note of whether they are wearing a wedding ring or not, and the idea of the sleaze-bag guy who takes off his wedding ring when he goes on a work trip, is looked on with contempt by general society, even in this climate of the scepticism or redefinition of what marriage is about.

My thoughts about the powerful symbolic nature of the wedding ring became most potent in my life during my three and a half year long separation at the end of my first marriage.

For those three and a half years I had to decide whether I would wear my wedding ring or not. My wife had taken her ring off pretty much at the beginning of the separation and I do think it contributed to her belief that the separation was for her, when we became emotionally divorced. But for me, I was fighting for reconciliation and in my mind (and I believed, in God’s mind) we were still married, and so, I wore the ring. There was in fact, only a brief period over those three and a half years (about a month, I think) where I decided to take the ring off. This, in itself was a very powerful thing to do and I think I did it at the time because my obsession with restoring my marriage was causing me unhealthy depression and so I decided to symbolically “take a break”. I did not completely take off the ring though. I put it on a chain around my neck until I felt I could put it on my finger where it belonged.

This simple band of gold was for me a symbol of my vows. It represented the fact that I was committed to the promises I had made and that in my mind at least, that I was still married.

That is why, when the divorce became finalised, I knew what I had to do to accept the reality that my mariage had ended. I had to take off my ring.

As I had been fighting so hard for my marriage for so long, I thought that I better do something even more potent than simply take it off, and so, on the day before my divorce was finalised I invented a little ritual. Having worked in the funeral industry for a while, I have come to see the importance of the funeral experience in the process of grief and acceptance and so I decided to have one of my own little funeral-type ritual. The counsellor I was seeing at the time recommended that I draw a line on the ground somewhere and go for a long walk thinking through my entire relationship and then come back to that line and simply… walk over it. This would physically symbolise the moment that my marriage ended and that I was walking beyond it. I liked this idea and so incorporated it into my little ritual.

I went to the spot where I had proposed to my first wife – It’s in a park in the city of Melbourne – and at the exact spot where I had bent my knee to ask her to marry me, I once again bent down and dug a small hole in the dirt. There I sat and cried and prayed as I held in my hand the photo I had kept in my wallet throughout the separation. And when I was ready, I took off my wedding ring and placed it along with the photo, into that small hole and covered them up. Then I stood up and went for a very long walk and did exactly what my counsellor had advised. I eventually came back to that spot where my wedding ring was buried… and I stepped over it. I walked forward as a single man and kept on walking. That moment was extremely powerful and helpful.

If you are facing divorce and you need to accept its reality in your life (I’m not commenting here on situations where a legal divorce would not constitute a “real” divorce in God’s eyes – that’s maybe for another blog!), then I would suggest doing some sort of ritual like this. I also had friends around that evening and I played a variety of songs that had been significant to my marriage and prayed and received their comfort. You should do what would be significant and helpful to you. The main thing I would suggest is not to wait for the legal certificate of divorce to come in the mail to be your “marker” or “moment of acceptance”. The document may take a bit to get to you and it is a cold symbol. Also, you need to file that document away and keep it safe so that you can marry again in the future, so don’t treat it with too much symbolic or emotional significance as you may end up destroying it.

Anyway, back to the subject of wedding rings.

By God’s kindness and mercy, a couple of years after my divorce I was looking for a new wedding ring. I had met Cat Wort, a wonderful, fun, godly and genuine woman, and a week before we had been dating for a year, I had asked her to marry me.

Now, after all that I have shared in the first part of this blog, I’m sure you can understand how thinking about purchasing a new wedding ring was quite an emotional thing for me. After all that I had been through, what did a wedding ring mean to me? Did it hold that traditional concept of a perfect unbroken circle of eternal commitment?

Well, I thought through a lot of this, and realised that no matter what I chose, I knew two things – One, I wanted the ring to be gold, and two, it had to be different from my first ring.

The “it had to be gold” thing was completely meaningless I could admit, but I couldn’t shake it. I looked and looked at heaps of other options, but I couldn’t get past the idea that deep in my psyche, there is implanted a cliche that a wedding ring is gold. The titanium wedding ring for men and the solid sterling silver men’s rings just didn’t feel right. It’s not a great argument, but, with Cat’s encouragement, I admitted to myself that it being classic yellow gold was actually important to me.

It also had to be different from my first ring. This was a bit trickier to accomodate. My first wedding ring was the classic simple band of gold – like the ring in “Lord of the Rings”. These you can find in any jewellery store.

Unfortunately, that first ring had so powerfully become a symbol to me, I knew I couldn’t buy another one that looked like it. I knew my new marriage wasn’t simply a replacement for the old. Cat wasn’t a substitute or a re-run. I never even refer to her as my “second-wife” and I never want her to feel like anything less than my “wife”.

So, I knew the ring that symbolised my marriage to her had to be special. I wanted it to symbolise what I had learnt about marriage and be a reminder to me and anyone else of those truths. I hope one day I can show my wedding ring to my kids or grandkids and explaining its meaning to them.

After searching high and low, and getting a little bit stressed about it, I found a little jewellery maker on Sydney Rd in Coburg (right near where I lived) and saw in the window a ring that looked like it was made up of lots of panels. It was very cool, and creative and so I tried it on. I really liked it and and was even more pleased after I found out that I could use that concept of the panels and design my own original ring and it wouldn’t cost any more.

After a few sketches and different designs, I eventually came up with the one I am wearing today. It says a few things to me…

The Broken Ring

The first thing you might notice about my ring is that it’s not just a solid band of gold. It’s made up of all these panels in a brick-like pattern. Now, I didn’t intend for it to imply that my first marriage was solid and now my new marriage is somehow broken, but it does reflect something of my experience. There is a fragility in marriage that I think all married people should acknowledge.

In hindsight, I see that in my first marriage I had, what I call a “Titanic” view of marriage. I thought, because we were both Christians and we were making a life-long commitment, that, like the Titanic, not even God could sink this ship! One of the reasons why so many people died on the Titanic was because they had such an expectation that the ship was unsinkable, they they did not take the proper precautions to make sure people would survive if they ever struck a big enough iceberg. They didn’t have nearly enough lifeboats and they had a poor emergency strategy. I think I thought of my marriage like that. I thought, as a Christian, I will never consider divorce an option – which I think was a godly position to take – but this foolishly fostered in me an over-confidence that meant I did not expect that we would ever hit a big enough iceberg to sink us, and because of that, I did not protect my marriage and ensure we had a healthy enough relationship to save us if disaster ever struck. So when we hit a big iceberg, the weakness of our marriage was exposed and the ship sunk.

The brick-like panels of my wedding ring reminds me that although my first marriage was broken, God is a God of redemption and restoration. He taught me so many things about his character, about my need and about how I should properly and biblically think about marriage, my identity in Christ, and where my hope must ultimately lie. So, like a broken wall being rebuilt, God has rebuilt my life and graciously given me a marriage that is built on the right foundations.
I look at my ring and the fact that it is made up of panels reminds me that on one level my marriage is fragile. Like a brick wall, it is made up of pieces, but it is also well constructed. I am confident that my marriage to Cat will last until death do us part, not because of the strength of our commitment or simply the fact that we are Christians and so divorce will never seem like an option… I am confident because acknowledging our fragility helps me to be committed daily and diligently and most importantly, it helps me to be dependent on the one thing that truly holds our marriage together – the gospel.

The Cross

Another aspect of the ring that you may have noticed is that the spaces between the panels create the shape of a cross.

For Christians, the cross is the heart of Christianity. There is nothing magical about the symbol itself. It refers to the horrible place of execution that Jesus experienced. So why is this symbol of death and disgrace the central symbol of Christianity? And why did I chose for it to be the key symbol on my wedding ring?

Well, there is so much that could be said about this topic, but I will try to just make three main points relevant to my marriage.

Firstly, the cross is the place where sin is acknowledged and dealt with. Marriage is always a commitment between two sinful people. In your wedding vows, you are making huge commitments that inevitably you will fail to keep perfectly. Your love will be mixed with selfishness. Your trust will go through seasons of doubt. Even your fidelity will be tested and you may struggle with attraction for other people or temptation to engage in porn use or even worse. If you have no way of dealing with sin and empowering forgiveness, then you will inevitably have a marriage that is based on performance and devoid of grace.

Our relationship with God is based on the grace found at the cross of Jesus. We can’t even begin to engage with the gospel if we can not acknowledge the most basic of all truths – that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We come to God with our sin in our hands and God comes to earth in Jesus and welcomes us into his family. But he doesn’t ignore our sin or sweep it under the carpet. He takes it onto himself and bears the full punishment it deserves. In the cross, our sin is rightly acknowledged as wrong and yet at the same time, it is paid for and dealt with. The cross is the place of atonement. It is the fulfilment of all the Old Testament sacrifices. It is the doorway to forgiveness. As Peter writes, “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” (1 Peter 3:18).

The wonderful thing now is that, in trusting in what Jesus did on the cross, we can be reconciled to God and enter a relationship with our Creator that is not based on guilt or winning God’s favour by being good. Guilt is completely done away with. There is no judgement, no condemnation, no distance. Our relationship with God can begin and be built on grace and mercy and forgiveness. God still acknowledges our sin, but having being dealt with on the cross, is it no longer a thing that separates us from him, and so he can help us to change from the inside out.

This is how marriage should operate also. Because God has forgiven my sin and Cat’s sin, how could I hold any sin against my wife? As Paul instructs us, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:12-13)

Because the cross is the centre of our mariage, it is the place where we can acknowledge and deal with the sin in our marriage. It is the place that shows us and empowers us to forgive each other. When we are both daily remembering the wonder of God’s grace and mercy to us, this overflows into grace and mercy for each other and for ourselves.

It also means we can be honest about when we sin and when we are sinned against. Because we do not fear condemnation from God and we do not fear condemnation from each other, we can bring up areas of failure freely (though still with sensitivity) and we can deal with them quickly and without the need to justify, hide or defend our sin. Now, naturally, we sometimes fail at showing grace to each other, but even that failure is covered in grace!

Secondly, the cross is the greatest display and description of love. The bible passage that was central at our wedding was from 1 John 4:9-11. “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”

Probably Jesus’ most famous teaching was to love our enemies, or love your neighbour as yourself. Clearly love is so important to marriage and everyone would agree that one of the saddest relationships is a loveless marriage. Staying faithfully committed is not God’s central goal for marriage. God wants marriage to be a place where love is experienced and deepened and displayed.

But what is love? What does it look like? Is it a feeling? Is it a choice? Is it simply a biochemical reaction in the brain? Well, if you are looking for an extensive list describing how love must practically demonstrate itself, then I’d point you to Paul’s brilliant and beautiful description in 1 Corinthians 13, but if you want it shown to you in a picture form, then time and time again the New Testament points us to the cross as the place where we see the love of God most potently displayed.

Again, that may seem odd. How can this symbol of death and torture show us God’s love? And how can it show us how we are to love each other? Well, in being willing to die for our salvation, Jesus shows us that selflessness is at the heart of love. Being willing to “die to ourself” for the good of our spouse, to bless rather than curse, to bear pain rather than inflict it, is what love is all about. It is not simply a warm fuzzy feeling that comes and goes and that we “fall into” and “fall out of”. It is a verb. It is a doing word. But at the same time, it is not devoid of emotion, like some sort of cold duty or theological principle. Love is passionate and genuine. Love longs for the good of the other. Love weeps when the beloved is hurting and is bold to fight for their good. As Paul says, “Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Corinthians 13:6-7) These are practical words, but they are also emotional words.

And this is way Jesus loved us in dying for us on the cross. The cross in my wedding ring is a reminder that I must love Cat with the same sacrificial love that Jesus showed me. This is especially relevant for me as a husband, as part of the meaning and purpose of marriage is to be a living parable of the covenant love between Christ and the church. Christ is the “bridegroom” and the church is his “bride” and the Bible instructs Christians to display this dynamic in the way husbands and wives relate to each other. Specifically, to Christian husbands, Paul says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” (Ephesians 5:25)

For Cat & I, the cross instructs our love, it models our love, it defines our love and it empowers our love.

Thirdly, the cross reminds me of my relationship with Cat that is deeper and longer lasting than marriage. Primarily, the cross is not about marriage. It is probably the greatest pivotal moment in all of history, where the greatest problem of mankind and all of creation was dealt its fatal blow. It is an event of epic and eternal consequences. Marriage, on the other hand, is quite insignificant in comparison. I do not define myself primarily by my marriage to Cat. Sure, I am her husband and she is my wife, but the cross on my ring reminds me that something so much more important is happening here. Our relationship as husband and wife will only last as long as we are both alive. As soon as one of us dies, we are instantly not married any more. Marriage is not eternal. It is fleeting like a breath, or as Ecclesiastes says… it is hevel (see my blog on Ecclesiastes for more). I do not put my hope or security or the centre of my identity in the fact that I am married. I think one of the problems in my first marriage was that I had done exactly that and came to discover just how “hevel” marriage really is.

At the most, I will be married to Cat for say, 40 years, and who knows, one of us could die any day (I work in the funeral industry, so I see how fragile life is). But as Christians who have come to the cross and put our trust in Jesus and found forgiveness and new life, we have become brother and sister in Christ. Now THAT is a relationship that will last! We will be worshippers of Jesus for eternity, which makes our 40 year long (if we’re lucky) marriage, seem quite small.

The best we can do for each other is to be faithful, not to each other, but first and foremost to Jesus. I want Cat to love Jesus more than she loves me, to be committed to Jesus more than she’s committed to me, and to seek to please Jesus more than she seeks to please me. And she wants that for me as well. Our relationship as spiritual siblings and fellow-followers of Jesus is deeper and richer and more eternal than our marriage. It is at the very core of our identity and so, consequently, it must be the very core of our marriage.

The cross is the mortar of my marriage

The reason why I did not design a ring with a cross engraved on to the gold surface is because the cross is not something I simply add on to my marriage to make it look more pretty or more religious. The cross is in the gaps of the broken pieces, holding them together. It is like the mortar in between the bricks. Take away the mortar and the brick wall can fall over with a bit of a push. But the mortar makes it all come together and gives it a strength that it would not otherwise have.

Likewise, the cross is fundamental to the strength of my mariage. Between every part of my marriage it can be found, and I like that my wedding ring displays this. When I look at it, the brick-like panels mean that I can see the cross in my direction, and in the next two panels, the cross is shown out to the world. This was unintentional, but I like the fact that this message of the centrality of the cross is displayed to myself and others at the same time.

;

The final thing I have unintentionally found that my wedding ring teaches me is how much of a pain it is to clean! Because of all the little gaps, it is so easy to get dirt and grit and shaving cream and hair mousse stuck in between the panels. It makes me keep an eye on whether it is getting gummed up or dirty, and it reminds me to protect it when I am about to do something that could clog it up. But, I guess, that’s a great lesson for marriage as well!

So, what’s in a ring? Well, for me, quite a lot. I know that rings are just bits of metal, and that they are easily lost or stolen. I also know that symbols, like rings, can make us feel like we are really doing marriage, when they really mean nothing if we do not do the real and practical work of loving and forgiving and serving every day.

I only hope that for as long as I have it on my finger, I can look at my ring often and be reminded of what my marriage really means.

; (5082)

Share Button
June 25

Would You Welcome Cancer?

20120625-224044.jpg

Consider this scenario:

God says to you, “My child, I don’t usually do this, but I want to tell you what is going to happen to you over the next two years. You are going to get cancer. It’s going to be bad and it’s going to be untreatable. I could prevent it and I could cure it, and that would give you many more years with your spouse and your young son, but I am not going to do that. Your family and friends will be praying for a miracle and I will hear their prayers and I will comfort them and you in your pain and grief and loss, but in your situation, I will not grant their request for healing. I have other plans for you.
See, I have used the last two decades of your life since you accepted the gospel and my Spirit has been at work in you, to strengthen your faith and forge your character for such a time as this. I will allow this suffering in your life because, and only because, I know that it will not shipwreck your faith. Many other Christians I protect from going through such an ordeal because I know it would completely crush them. It would not bring them closer to me. But in your case, you will come through and finish the race with your trust in me deepened and your knowledge of my love grown. You will have very dark times of doubt and you will cry out to me in frustration and confusion and wonder where I am in the midst of your suffering, but I will always be there and you will discover me in the darkest of pits.
My ultimate concern is not that you have a long life (at least not in this creation), my ultimate concern is not that you see your son grow up or that you achieve your career potential. My concern isn’t even primarily that you have a happy and pain-free life. All those joys will be for you complete in the new creation. For this life, my ultimate concern is that you know me, and that others know me through you.
This is actually why you will get cancer. Your life, though it will only be for another couple of years, will be a testimony of how a Christian faces suffering. Many will see how you prayed and prayed and came to me and relied on me for comfort and joy and strength and hope. This ordeal will show many how precious I am to you, and how when much of the pleasures of this world is taken away, you still have me and you are still satisfied. That will glorify me so much and encourage so many fellow-believers to continue in their walk with me.
But more than all that, the most profound way that your testimony will be used will be something you will never see in this life. It will be for the sake of your grandchild who you will never meet until the new creation.
Her name will be Talibah. She will be your son’s third child. She will run away from me most of her life and after her second miscarriage she will deny that she even believes I exist, though I will still be seeking her and drawing her to me. When I chose a human soul that I wish to bring into the family of salvation, there is no use in running away from me. The story of Jonah should teach her that, especially after your son will spend so many of her childhood years reading her that and many other Bible stories. But it won’t be the story of Jonah that I will use to reveal myself to her… it will be your story.
At the age of 54, I will bring across her path a record that your sister will write of your last couple of years. Talibah will read of your faithfulness to me through your battle with cancer, of the way you found your joy in me and how I strengthened and comforted you. She will read of how you spoke of your relationship with me as the most valuable thing in your life and how you would not be able to have faced such a battle, without me in your life. She will read your story and I will speak to her through it. I will use your testimony to awaken her soul to the reality of my love for her and to woo her to consider the gospel anew. A year later, she will ask a Christian lady who I will place in the house next door to her, to explain to her how she can be saved and that faithful neighbour, who has never done anything more than make it known that she was a child of mine and show Talibah hospitality, will lead her to put her trust in my sacrifice for her sins.
I will use your story as the catalyst for her coming into the kingdom and in the new creation, you will meet her and she will give you the greatest hug as she thanks you for your story.

This is my plan for your life. My question is, are you willing to accept cancer, knowing that this is how I plan to use it?”

Every Christian I have shared this scenario with, has enthusiastically said that they would be willing to take cancer and have their life be shortened, if it meant their grandchild would meet Jesus through it.
Of course, this is just a theoretical, and who really knows how they will respond to the news of cancer (or any other type of suffering like a separation and divorce in my case)? But I still think, their response is a testimony of how much the Christians that I know cherish their relationship with Jesus and how much they value someone else finding salvation over their own physical comfort, happiness or even physical life.

The reality is though, we do not ever get this in-depth explanation from God. We sometimes see the fruit that our suffering bears and how God uses it for his glory and other people’s good, but often we don’t. Who knows if God’s plans span decades or even hundreds or thousands of years? The stories of Christians over the centuries who have been martyred or have faithfully faced suffering, have inspired many people to consider the gospel.

The reality is: God is good and God is in control.

Those two concepts sometimes feel at odds as we can’t always see the “good” that God will bring out of something and when it just seems bad, we have trouble thinking that God is “in control”.

But those two concepts stand as true and I encourage you to grapple with them, to questions them and to reflect on them… but ultimately, to trust them.

I do wish that God would explain every thing he is doing through every experience of suffering that I see and experience. But in the end, I will trust him and keep seeking him in all circumstances.

I hope and trust by God’s strength, that my story will be one of enduring faithfulness, whether I will see all the good fruit of that story in this life, or the next.

20120625-224705.jpg

“When they sit around the campfires of the Kingdom, and they tell your story, what will they say?” – John Eldredge

“I thought my life was going to be like ‘Sleepless in Seattle’ and it ended up being more like ‘Lord of the Rings’! But in the end, which is a better movie?” – Simon Camilleri (something I said during the years leading up to my divorce)

“For even the very wise can not see all ends.” – Gandalf (from Lord of the Rings) (1587)

Share Button
June 19

3 Years After the Divorce

 

My divorce went through on the 13th of June 2009. Three years ago.

It was a dark and horrible time in my life as what I had fought long and hard to avoid, finally came to pass.

It had been a long and painful three and a half year long separation. God had used the whole experience to do wonderful and redemptive things in my life in the areas of personal purity, grounding my identity in Christ and deepening my intimacy and dependance with God, but sadly my marriage died in the process.

It was like sitting by the bedside of a terminally ill loved one and seeing them slip further and further away. No matter what I did, I could not convince my wife at the time to not go through with filing for divorce.

The best expression of this time was given to me by a Christian counsellor who I began seeing as the divorce loomed closer and closer. On my very first session with him, after I had poured out my heart and told him exactly where the state of things was between me and my wife. He looked at me and said, “I hope you don’t mind me saying it like this but… you’re fucked.”

I was shocked that those words would come out of the mouth of a Christian counsellor, especially on the very first session, but I was also very impressed. He knew exactly what I needed to hear and in the next few sessions, he helped me face the reality of the divorce that was about to enter my life.

I did a few things to prepare emotionally for it. One thing I did was write a poem, which became a song.

I wrote it three and a half days before the divorce became final. It is called “When the Fat Lady Sings.” Here is a recording I made of me singing it. (If you can’t watch YouTube clips, you can read the words here)

Three years has now passed.

God continues to show me his faithfulness in the midst of an uncertain world.

By God’s kindness and a wonderfully gracious woman’s willingness to give me a chance, I am now very happily married to Catherine.

My new marriage is a blessing, and Cat never expects me to forget my past. In fact, she thanks God for the ways in which my experience shaped and matured me.

On the three year anniversary of my divorce, I walked to work, and on the way, I reflected and prayed and became inspired to write a sequel to “The Fat Lady Sings”.

I could write several blogs on all the lessons I have learnt, and maybe one day, I’ll write more.

For now, I’ll simply leave you with the poem:

Three years later
God is greater
His faithfulness 
Has proved true
And the girl in the wings
With her song of redemption
Everyday now sings
Her song anew.

The lessons learnt
Not left me burnt
But showed me what 
I prayed they would
When the fat lady sings
There are still two true things…
You will find God is kind
And you will find God is good.

(1736)

Share Button
March 19

Love Hate Relationship – A Poem

This is a poem I was inspired to write after attending an evening listening to the teaching of Sy Rogers.

God put his finger on an area of my life where I was holding on to a lot of bitterness. Well, to be frank, I was holding on to hate.

As I prayed and tried to just “give it to God” I realized I wasn’t able to let it go so easily. My hate, I realized, was actually very important to me, and couldn’t simply be thrown away like a used tissue. As I reflected on this relationship I had with my hate, this poem emerged….


LOVE HATE RELATIONSHIP
A poem by Simon Camilleri 18/3/2010

I love my hate
I hold it close
It keeps me warm
It holds my tears
My broken heart
It shields from pain
Ensuring it won’t break again

My hate’s my friend
It sits with me
It hears my tale
It nods its head
It does not judge
It does not speak
It seethes for me when I am weak

It understands
It validates
It justifies
It advocates
It stands with me
Against the throng
Alone acknowledging the wrong

How could I
Sacrifice my hate?
How could I
Give up such a friend?
To let it go
Says I admit
That there was no real cause for it.

The only way
I could let go
Would be if God
Replaced my hate
It plays too much
A vital role
Its loss would leave too great a hole

God waits to see
What I will do
Will he be my
Hate’s substitute?
Will he be my true advocate?
Will I trust him more than my hate? (1242)

Share Button
February 24

Vincenza’s Vespa – A Poem

Vincenza’s Vespa

a poem by Simon Camilleri  7/4/08


Vincenza’s fuel efficient, two-wheeled, sleek and stylish Vespa

zooms around the city ducking and weaving between trams and traffic jams

parking wherever it wants and flying away without leaving a trace

A black buzzing beauty

But the girl sitting on her brown leather back is not named Vincenza.

Vincenza was my grandma

She left us money that she had stored in her house over decades.

As a secret hope might be stored away in one’s heart,

this money grew and grew

but was never used to fulfil its intended dream.

In the end it had to be cleaned from the mouse poo and dust that had built up around it

and finally it was distributed to all the grandchildren.

It came with a solemn warning

This is a gift from Vincenza

Carry with it her dreams

Time passed

and Vincenza’s gift was placed in an account that could not be touched

There it was stored, as a dream of happiness might be stored away in a lover’s heart,

and there it grew.

Vincenza’s gift was safe and secure

whilst the world outside fell to pieces.

The lover’s separated

and after seven months, the girl insisted on taking her share

She had a right, she said

And all at once Vincenza’s gift became something that was mine and hers

Something that should be split in half

to maintain consistency with the state of our hearts.

Vincenza and her dreams were forgotten

and her gift was broken in two.

The money, for that is all it was now, was quickly spent

To pay back debts and deal with financial insecurities

and also to buy a shiny new Vespa.

Now a year and a half has passed

And the Vespa still buzzes around the city

An occasionally painful reminder to me of Vincenza’s gift,

and her unfulfilled dreams,

and that broken solemn warning

and it all stinks

as the mouse poo and dust begins to build once more

For the girl never steers that Vespa in the direction of Vincenza’s son and his wife

Who still live and breath and love her like a daughter

Or Vincenza’s grandson

Who still tries to keep safe that dream of happiness

that was once stored away in a lover’s heart

And though she was there when Vincenza’s spirit breathed its last

And though she was there when Vincenza’s body was laid to rest in the ground

She doesn’t even steer that Vespa in the direction of Vincenza’s graveside

To at least say thank you for the ride. (1691)

Share Button