A voice in the darkness

Ever felt like you are stuck in a dark place? Then this post is written just for you….

Gods first words in the human story were words spoke in the darkness – words from the darkness. Spoken by God. Spoken to breathe life into the darkness.

Out of the darkness these words were uttered:

“Let… there… be… light!”

And there was light. The first light in the universe came from the voice of God in the darkness. Gods first breathe in the universe created light.

This was the beginning. The first beginning. The first of many beginnings. This is the work of God in our lives. God enters into the darkness, unperturbed or disturbed, to bring light, growth, love, joy, peace that surpasses understanding, and all other manner of blessings as he wills.

Whenever God wants us to grow he leads us into the darkness where we are led by the spirit into the place of deepening faith and holy trust. And into our darkness He speaks ever so gently… let there be light, and Christ enters our darkness. He walks in it with us to lead us through the dark wilderness into his promised land for our lives.

Where there is darkness today God is already at work. New life will spring up at the sound of his gentle voice. Do not listen for a booming voice in the darkness. Look for the still small voice of the Spirit speaking and breathing the new life of God. God is speaking light into your darkness.

019 How not to be bored or how to be bored (or 7 ideas for filling your Summer with relaxing stuff)

So in our house its the Summer holidays – we are 2 week into the holidays and already we are hearing the cries “I’m bored”. So today I took the proverbial bored bull by the horns and sat down with my kids to come up with a list of things they could do to fend off the beautiful beast of boredom. So here it is, our list of 7 un-boring things to do:

boy wearing black jacket holding electric guitar

Practice that instrument: does your kid play something? Have they a passion for piano? Do they go gaga for guitar, or are they ecstatic about the xylophone? Manipulate their passion to excel in and instrument or in using that wonderful singing voice.  Music fills a place and a heart with joy!

toddler reading book

Read a good book: I’m a mug for reading and for learning and I love that kids are like little knowledge sponges. I think there are few kids who don’t like a good book, but there are a lot of kids who don’t want to read books that don’t engage them. It took a while for my son to find books that engaged him when he was about 10-13 – then he found Lee Childs and BINGO he’s reading like a pro! I love talking with my kids about what they are reading, and more importantly about what they are observing and learning through their reading!

architecture building business cinema

A Trip to the Cinema: Kids climbing the walls? Do you need a break? Treat yourself and them to a movie. Once the lights are down they can enjoy the film and you might even manage 15 minutes sleep without anyone disturbing you, or even noticing.

bicycle bike biker cyclist

Bike Ride: What’s not to love? It’s exercise so its great for fun, health and your mental balance. It might even fill you with joy as you blow off the boredom cobwebs. Who am I kidding!!!! I hate bikes

bridge child children fashion

Go for a Walk: Now I’m back to good ideas. A walk allows you to slow the pace of life down. Choose somewhere you know the kids can run ahead a little bit (allowing you moments of peace). Give the kids a challenge: how many types of leaf can you find and identify? Lie down in the grass and see who can find the coolest animal shape in the clouds. Imagine you’re walking through Jurassic Park (might not be restful, but it wont be boring)

photograph of men having conversation seating on chair

Help your local coffee shop make a profit: Coffee is one of the gifts of God to the world, so it would be a sin not to indulge! My kids love when we go for a coffee, always hopeful that some cake will be thrown into the mix! Coffee shops are great for people-watching – one can learn so much about people and Hipsters when consuming coffee (or tea, or some other drinky thing!).

Bored

Get bored: My kids are ALWAYS telling me they are bored, and I now always respond with “It’s good to be bored – enjoy!” Someone once said that boredom is the birthplace of creativity (Ok, I admit that it’s only me who ever said that!). It is true though – when we allow our minds to wander around in boredom, our minds wander into places they might not otherwise have reached. Boredom allows us to mentally and intellectually go ‘off piste’. It helps us think where and how we don’t usually think. Embrace boredom and you will embrace creativity.

My 8 year old is currently building a house. Yes, you hear that right – building a house! She was bored last week and began to imagine a little house with rooms. She began collecting crafty bits and pieces and yesterday began constructing her house. She’s collected paper for the walls and carpets; loo rolls for cupboards; etc. All this came from boredom.

So I implore you to change how you view boredom – boredom is a pathway to joy. Embrace it like an old friend; wear it like a winter coat; wander in it’s directionless travel through the beautiful fields of your imagination – you never know what creative genius you will find.

we got bored

On the journey there are valleys to pass through

Every adventure commences with great excitement and expectation. The heroes band together, united in their quest, hungry for success to greet and embrace them with the warmth of an old friend.

In life there are wide pastures where we can relax; enjoy the people we love; stop for refreshment; etc. In the pastures we are refreshed and restored. We smile, laugh and experience joy again.

white sheep on farm
The Pasture

Life also has it’s mountains. These are the situations that develop strength in our ‘life muscles’ as we climb through life’s difficulties -and we climb with hope because we know there’s a great view to see at the top. On the mountain top we can stop; we take in the wide panorama of how life has led us to these moments and we are generally grateful for the positive and negative experiences we have faced.

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The Mountain

But what is there in-between the pasture and the mountaintop? What if we are neither on the mountain or playing in the pasture? Where are we then?

For a lot of people the in-between feels like a valley, and that’s not a great place to be. The valley is where the sun cannot reach; it can feel like utter darkness (how often have you heard someone say ‘I was in a really dark place’ when they are coming out of a life-struggle?); it can feel oppressive, hopeless, joyless, or worse. It can be a place where you feel isolated and lonely.

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The Valley

So how do we cope with life’s valleys? Here’s my three tips:

The Valley experiences WILL pass (and you don’t need to forget them)

Remember that our hard times will pass: they are not eternal – they ARE temporal. Time does heal, and we do find ways to keep on moving forward (and it’s okay to look back and remember where you’ve come from, as well as look forward to where you’re heading!).

The Valley teaches us about reality

In the valley the candyfloss of positive thinking and empty optimism is blown away and we are left with what is real – real emotions; real thoughts; real experiences. It blows away the dross of empty wisdom and meaningless clichés, as well as showing us the depth of friendships and relationship we really have. Although in the short/medium term this can be a painful process, in the long term our lives can only benefit from this raw sense of experiential reality.

The Valley is a transitional Place

This is a truth worth holding onto: the Valley is not a place we are meant to dwell in – it is a place to pass through. Humanity cannot dwell in darkness for long – we are created to live in the light. It is a place to walk through – not to sit in. It is a place to learn in – not to live in.

Are you in a valley of life right now? Is the darkness pressing into your mind or your heart? Are life’s struggles tipping your emotions into a dark place?

Keep stepping forward towards the mountain or the pastures. You will get there eventually, even if it feels tough right now. Keep on keeping on – the valley won’t last forever.

 

 

 

 

015 Finding your purpose and some Japanese thinking (Ikigai)

I recently wrote about how knowing your purpose is a key to living in joy. But what if we don’t know our purpose? What if we’ve never been able to work it out? – Then this post will really, practically help you…

Maksud continued to wander the wilderness, the cold east wind blowing her hair across her face. Strands of her long black hair blew into her eyes as she battled against the wind and sand, still unsure of her destination. She looked up from the ground into the distance, something mystically arising within her soul: Something that felt like hope despite the harshness of her surroundings. She had heard in the distant past that sometimes hope defies reality. She stared hard into the distance, willing some glimmer to appear. Maksud reminded herself that sometimes a glimmer of hope is all you need to feed the thirsty longing of your soul. Just for a second she thought she saw a shadow through the blowing sands. 

Have you ever felt like Maksud? Your direction in life seems shrouded in shifting sands which blind you to the direction your life should take. It’s easy to feel like there’s no point – no purpose. It’s easy to feel that you are wandering while everyone else is ‘living a purposeful life’. Can I encourage you?

Let hope arise – sometimes hope defies (or changes) your reality

In this post I want to provide you with a practical idea based on a Japanese concept called ‘Ikigai‘ which may inspire hope to rise, and glimmers to appear in how you think about your purpose in life. You have something to offer the world that no one else can give. You are unique in the life experiences, education, skills, knowledge and ideas that fill you. No one else is like you, and no one else can give what you can give in the way that you can give it. In your life you will connect with people that others cannot connect with and you will speak into their lives in very unique ways. Understanding your sense of purpose is vital in this.

Seven Benefits of living your purpose

  1. You will be more focused – purpose directs your decisions, journey and destination because you will have a stronger sense of meaning in life
  2. You will be more passionate, with a deeper joy in living
  3. You will be more hopeful – it is a joy to know that every day you can do something (even a small thing) that is linked to your overall purpose in life
  4. Life is more straightforward – decisions are made through being purposeful
  5. You will be more motivated – you are able to move in the direction you want and will be doing what energises you
  6. You will be more resilient – having a stronger sense of purpose means that when life is tough (as it can be often!) you have strong reasons for weathering the storms and persevering to move forward
  7. Purpose has been linked with better health and stronger personal relationships

This list is not exhaustive – there are a great many benefits a purposeful life can give to you. So how can you practically work out your purpose? Here goes…

IKIGAI

In Japan there is a simple concept called Ikigai (loosely translated it means reason for being). The image below shows the 4 main parts of Ikigai. They are:

  1. What are you good at?
  2. What do you enjoy?
  3. What does the world need?
  4. What can you get paid for?

img_9767Ikigai is the place where all four ‘spheres’ connect and overlap. The original concept of Ikigai does not place importance on what you can earn because true happiness in life is not about what you accumulate in life, but rather in how you live your life. The ‘earning’ part of the model is shown because we have to consider how to survive practically in life, and there is a monetary cost to that. It’s hard to feel fulfilled when your stomach is empty!

Ikigai is also not about knowing what career to choose – a career choice should come from having a sense of purpose.

Ikigai – A Purposeful Process

Get yourself a large sheet of paper and write the 4 questions across the top of the page (see the photo below for my example)

Ikigai lists

Make Lists

Next, start listing everything you love doing under the heading “What do I love?” – be exhaustive in the list. Take your time. You might need to come back to it many times (I spent weeks reflecting on this).

It can be helpful to talk with friends or family to get their ideas (but only write down what is true for you, not them!). This list is likely to be your longest list: add sports; musical interests; work ideas; creativity pursuits; tasks; everything you can think of that makes you feel happy!

Then do the same for the next three questions. Be sure to write as many things as you can think of. Put down everything you think is relevant to each question. Remember there is no wrong thing to write – you can always cross it out again – it’s vital to the process. Allow yourself to dream, but keep it real.

Look for ‘themes’

Once you have done this, look at each list and begin to look for what words or ideas reoccur – circle these as shown on my example – you should now be seeing how some of the initial ideas on the ‘love list’ are also on your other lists (if not, should they be?) – seeing words and phrases on 3-4 of the lists will help you see the parts of a greater ‘purpose’ or sense of meaning for you.

In the lists above, the person listed things like ‘inspiring others’, ‘telling stories’ and ‘teaching stuff’ – each of these could easily join together into the role of a Teacher. They also said they were good at ‘explaining things’ – a great teaching skill! They had always seen ‘public speaking’ as a presentation skill, but never as a teaching skill – this process changed their view and allowed their mind to open to wider possibilities!

Create a Purpose Statement for your life

Take the reoccurring statements from your first three lists and try to craft them into a statement of purpose for your life – this is perhaps the hardest part of the exercise. It will take time. You will need to draft , draft and redraft until you are content with the statement you have made. This part of the process took me over a month!

Ikigai does not guarantee that you will be happy in life, but the process will lead you to a clearer idea of what your purpose in life actually is. The purpose statement that flowed from the example above ended up being…

Inspiring others to learn from life through teaching, speaking and writing

Notice that this statement doesn’t mention their career – your career choices will flow from your sense of purpose. They could be a blogger, motivational speaker, teacher, life coach, youth worker, or a travelling preacher and still live their life ‘on purpose’.

Make choices based on your Purpose Statement

By the time you are reflecting on ‘What can I get paid for?’ you should have a ‘glimmer’ (or a clear insight) of what your purpose looks like. The person above knew before this point that they needed to work with young people and that they needed to be doing public speaking because it gave them a massive sense of happiness and energy.

If your purpose statement was about being fabulous in finances and impacting the banking world, you would not then choose a career path as a train driver. You would make choices that facilitate the fulfilling of your purpose. You would aim to work in finance, and to grow in depth of knowledge and experience with which you might make an impact. Growing in your purpose requires narrowing down your options – this is one of the ways you will become more focused.

Moving forward on Purpose

It is important to point out that purpose is not always about what career you have (although it can be). Purpose is about what gives your life meaning and this differs for each of us. Our situation in life can deeply influence our sense of purpose. A Japanese lady who was struggling with her purpose came to the conclusion that her purpose was to be the best mother to her children possible.

The key thing in finding purpose is about happiness – what will give you joy while you are giving yourself to the world around you? As you move forward keep on reflecting on your purpose – continue to draw on it in your life choices as you aim to live it out with passion, energy and meaning.

Mark Twain

I must point out that knowing your purpose does not make your life easier (it might make it harder!) – it makes it more fulfilled (but only when you life according to your purpose. Living out your purpose will require grit, determination and a lot of perseverance. Other people will always try to get you to live according to their purpose for your life – stay focused and stay on your track – it will be worth it in the end.

May you know an ever deepening sense of happiness as you  uncover your sense of purpose and give back to the world around you.

If you have found this article helpful please leave me a comment below, or drop me an email to let me know how it has helped you. You might also wish to share it with your friends, or on social media – this would be kind, and appreciated.  With warm regards, Stuart.

 

 

 

‘The Stenchmire’ – about facing your fears

It shuffled silently through the undergrowth, the stench of its breath illuminated like mist under a cold full moon. I could almost feel the darkness within it as I hid, trembling in the tree trunk, heart bursting in the fear of being found. It wandered past slowly and I exhaled my relief. That was when he stopped, turned, and looked directly into the darkness where I crouched.

There are many things in life which can leave us feeling paralysed in fear: other people, job insecurity, terrorism, etc. Fear has this way of making us feel helpless, and so we hide. We hide our true selves. We lock ourselves in the inside of our bodies and we hope that no one will see who we really are, or what we really feel.

Image result for undergrowth at night

What if we’re not meant to live that way? What if the story looks more like this:

It shuffled silently through the undergrowth, the stench of its breath illuminated like mist under a cold full moon. I could almost feel the darkness within it as I stood before it, heart bursting in fear, yet determined to slay this beast once and for all. It wandered slowly and menacingly towards me. I exhaled my determination to stand my ground. That was when he stopped and looked directly at me in the moonlit darkness where I stood. I stood silent as a sentinel, staring him down, refusing to be the first to look away. We were like statues, cold and hard in the night until just when I was going to loose my stare, he lowered his head, turned and walked back into the darkness from where he came.

Sometimes you need to face what you fear. Sometimes you need to find out that you are stronger than you think. It’s not easy; it doesn’t mean you don’t feel afraid, but it does mean that you don’t let fear shackle you and hold you down as helpless.

May you find the strength to stand your ground, look fear in the eye, and put fear in its place.