Got protection?

A number of years back, I got one of those 'too good to refuse' offers on a home security package. Somehow, I got suckered into listening to the sales spiel - I think it came with a 'free offer' (read: just listen to this guy for an hour and we will give you a free meal/holiday/gift situated somewhere you'll never get to at a time that is equally unavailable). The sales pitch consisted of painting the absolute worst case scenario about what thieves had done to other homes and would do to your home if you didn't have proper security. Fortunately, it came with a 24-hour cooling off period!

Although we have become much more savvy at picking apart sales pitches and avoiding these sorts of traps, we can still be quite easily triggered by our supposed need for protection from all the ills in the world. Whether it be protecting our finances through various forms of insurance, our bodies from the sun, sex or car accidents, we don't have to look too far through advertisements to find that many are pitched at our need for protection of some kind: the list is endless.

So why do they work?

The trigger to buy comes from our feeling the need for protection, which is the outworking of us feeling unsafe, whether through perceived or real threat. Underlying all this, though, what is really being poked is our fear button. If you don't buy this product, this is what could happen and you would do well to be afraid! 

It is not just in the physical realm that our need for protection gets triggered, though. Most likely you can also think of times where you have been surprised by your reaction to a circumstance or person that has been way beyond rational or even helpful. At some deep level, our fear response gets triggered to flight or fight and many times, our protection mechanisms have popped up before we are even aware. 

The problem is, going into protection mode is generally not something we have control over. Our responses are so innate, so automatic and so familiar that we think they are simply normal. Perhaps for you, it is putting on your big voice, talking over the antagonist, shutting them down, either through your volume, the cutting words you use, or simply denigrating everything they say. You might even use your physical body to make you seem bigger and more powerful, and you may not even be conscious that you do it. 

For others, you may withdraw inside yourself, or remove yourself physically, shut down and refuse to engage any further, hiding from whatever makes you feel fearful. 

And it is not just external responses that we use to protect us. At an even deeper level, we also engage a complex series of beliefs about people, the world and our circumstances that also help us to feel safe or protected.

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In my own journey, I became aware of just how extensively my protective systems were being used in the way I interacted with others. An example that comes to mind is the belief that people are broken and that they cannot help but hurt you at some point. This is true and so appears to be helpful. In terms of protection it led me to engaging with distrust. It meant I lived from a perspective that no one was really trustworthy.

I put a barrier around my heart with this belief that said no one is safe, so don't let them get too close, then they can't hurt you.

Don't trust them too much, don't care too much about them, their opinion or their words, and then they can't hurt you. 

Along the journey, I came to a point where I realised that I was struggling to receive love, care, affection, affirmation or encouragement from anyone or anywhere. Even though people may have given these to me, I couldn't receive it because I didn't trust them. It soon became clear that this protective belief, so grounded in 'truth', not only kept the bad out, but also the good, even from God.

And this highlights the problem of our protection mechanisms. Whether we use distrust, offense, anger, hatred, bitterness, hurt (to name a few), to protect ourselves, what we are actually saying to God is that we also don't trust Him, that His opinion or provision is not enough, that He doesn't have ability or power to protect us, so we partner with something else instead. We actually replace our relationship with God with something else.

What is the answer?

It is easy to say “God”, but if you are anything like me, you might wonder what that looks like?

How do I actually engage with God as the answer?

For me, in the above scenario, as I was sharing my struggle with knowing in my head that I needed to receive from God, but fearful of the pain of hurt from others, God actually gave me the answer to the problem. What I saw was that His love was all the protection I needed. The picture was of a ‘bubble of love’ surrounding me, like a soap bubble, beautifully shimmering with ever changing colour. Even as I saw it, my spirit was asking, but how can it protect me, it is so fragile, as soon as anything touches it, it will pop! However, at the same time, God showed me that His love was actually very strong and had the ability to only allow good stuff in and keep the bad stuff out. The fiery darts of the enemy just bounced off!

Although I still find myself liable to hurt from others at times, I do know from this that I have my safe space, my strong, protective tower in the love of God. I can always head into that space to receive His love for me. Remembering that my identity is found in what He says about me and His love for me gives me strength and, hopefully, all the protection I need.

Why not ask Him what you are using to protect your heart and what He would like to replace it with, if its not Him?


Made yourself comfortable?

We bought a new mattress recently. When we tried it out at the store, I was ready to go to sleep on it there and then. It seemed so comfy and supportive.

Our old mattress, in my husband’s words, had a canoe on each side where we slept. Slight exaggeration of course, but you get the picture. However, for all its faults (and old age), it was comfortable and sinking into my ‘canoe’ at the end of each day seemed bliss.

And then the new mattress arrived. Out went the old. Going to bed that night, it felt so FLAT and I wasn’t sinking into my familiar hole. As much as the mattress felt comfortable in the shop, back in our own surroundings it didn’t seem quite right.

Looking around at what is going on in our community, our society and the world can often make us uncomfortable. What we see can leave us feeling distressed, fearful, unhappy, anxious and worried about what the future might hold. 

In this place of dis-ease and of discomfort, it can be easy to seek after our own comfort. We may use alcohol, getting a bigger house or car, holidays, food, chocolate, sex. We may bury ourselves in the safety of relationships with family and friends, seeking to live in denial of the problems – like the proverbial ostrich with our heads firmly stuck in the sand, seeking only our own comfort as the answer.

Unfortunately, the promise of those things is fairly hollow. In the long run, the external ruses we use to self-comfort ourselves don’t last. Reality has a way of sneaking in on us and stealing those comforts we think we have won for ourselves. Material indicators and circumstances will always let us down at that point where they can’t give us the answers we seek.

So how do we live? When is it ok to have some comfort and when is too much?

I grew up in a family where we were regularly encouraged to think of those less fortunate than ourselves. Although there is nothing wrong with this in many ways, we can also be in a space where we deny ourselves self-care, rendering us burnt out. This line is one that I am still working out, although I have a sneaking suspicion that it is a moveable line, one that is not set in stone, and nor is it the same for each of us. I don’t think, either, that it is something we can work out on our own – we need God’s perspective as well.

So when I come to asking the question of what is ok in terms of my own comfort and what is too much, it is really difficult to measure. We can look at those around us – living in the wealthy community that many of us do – and believe that we live at a much lower standard.

On the other hand, we can look at refugees in Syria, or those living in areas ravaged by natural disasters, or those who live in countries full of poverty and corruption and feel as though we should give it all away.

Perhaps the issue is less about what we do or don’t have but our attitude to it.

A measure I like to use is “can I live without it?” If the answer is no, then it probably has a higher hold over my life than it should. I like to think about various aspects of my life, from the material goods, to relationships and experiences and ask the question of how I would cope without these. If I feel that I couldn’t, then I have to ask a further question of how much my dependence is on that object, relationship, particular food, and so on and not on God, who has promised to supply all my needs.

The truth is, too, most of our dependencies (on relationships, food, goods) have come out of negative experiences. We have either struggled without them, or we are using them to mask other, deeper needs.

At the base of these fear often resides – fear of how we would cope without whatever it is, or fear of discomfort and pain. Sometimes it takes the removal of these things to show us that we actually can cope and even live well without them.

Sometimes, it is not until we are in the place of discomfort that we realise we have been relying on the wrong things, on the wrong person. We realise we have molded circumstances and stuff around us to protect us from pain and all they have done is frozen us into a position that is neither helpful nor healthy. We have come to the point where we are immobilised for further action or even to break out – just like my comfy mattress was doing my back no favours and was really difficult to get out of in the morning!

And, of course, fear is the opposite of trust.

Do we really trust God to supply our needs? Do we really trust Him to turn up? Do we really trust He knows best and cares for us, even when it all looks wrong?


When your fear is bigger than your faith

“…the Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

It was such a beautiful morning.  Although it is Winter and quite cold, the sky was a brilliant expanse of blue and the sunshine enhanced the colours of the garden. The grass was greener, the lingering Autumn leaves flashing their hues of reds, yellows and oranges making the view even more vibrant.

Down in the valley, though, everyone was still under the cover of cloud. Heading off the mountain, I drove down into, and then below the low-lying cloud to a day with no sunshine; to a day of misty, drizzly grey that seemed to drain all colour and joy away. What a difference a little perspective makes.

I was reflecting on the different perceptions we can have as I looked out the car window a while back. I took a photo of the cloud as it seemed to speak to me of how we could look at what is going on in our world. What struck me was the darkness of the cloud – it drew my eye toward it. But then, even as I watched, I saw the streaks of sun pushing out to the sides. It reminded me of those cartoons, where one character is trying to squash and hide another, but bits keep popping out the sides and between the fingers. No matter how hard he tries, he cannot hide something bigger than himself.

In a time when we seem to hear bad news only to be replaced by more bad news, when the negativity seems to come at us from all angles, it is easy to live like the view in the valley is reality, or like myself, focussed on the darkness of the cloud. Both these images reminded me of the well-worn quote: “It’s always sunny at 40000 feet.

On social media many people seem to thrive, or at least continually focus on how bad things are. Even many Christians seem to live under the cloud of fear of what is going to happen next. Much of what is reported is often misreported, false or exaggerated, but even so, no matter how big or how dark the clouds of bad news get, we don’t have to focus on them. There is still another Truth. We can remember that the sun is still shining above, that God is still sovereign.

"...perfect love drives out fear..."

We have a choice and it is one that we need to make every day, sometimes moment by moment. Are we going to focus on the negativity, the difficulties, the scary stuff, or do we choose to focus on God, the One who is bigger than it all, is trustworthy, faithful and true?  

What do you do when your fear gets bigger than your faith? How do you connect with perfect Love (1 John 4:8) to cast out your fears? I’d love you to share your favourite tool for beating fear here.

Is God Good?

Another mass shooting in the US, more bombings in Syria, floods, storms and earthquakes. Seeing the news makes it easy to wonder what God is up to. Where is He? Does He even care?

And lurking under these questions is another question; one that we hardly dare admit: 

Is God really good?

I know some who struggle with the idea of God’s existence and this is one of their biggest issues. If God is good, why does He allow so much bad stuff? Why doesn’t He step in and fix it? We might have our stock answers about free will, or even that He might ask us that question: what are we prepared to do about it? But underneath, if we are really honest, God's goodness is a question many of us struggle with. If all this horrible stuff is going on in my life and my world, can God really be good?

It’s not a new question, though. It actually goes right back into the Garden, right back in our humanity. The serpent responds to Eve with a direct attack on God's goodness - God is withholding something good from you. It is a tension we have been grappling with ever since, every time we feel our lives are not quite how we would like them. "God, you could do better for me. If you were really good, my circumstances would be different." We might not give voice to these thoughts and feelings, but they often dwell somewhere deep inside us.

It is vital we settle the answer to this question in our own heart. It is a foundational aspect of our faith, and if I doubt the answer, I will constantly battle with it and constantly lose that battle. If I do not have a deep conviction of God’s goodness, my circumstances and what I see around me will continually trip me up in my faith. If I doubt God’s goodness at any level, this is where I will put more faith in what I see in the natural than in God. Put another way, when I believe with all my being that God is good, I have a different perspective on what is going on around me.

I recently read a blog about the Israelites having to walk around the walls of Jericho 14 times before the walls did anything, (When the Walls Don't Seem to Move, by Allison Bown). The walls didn’t start to crumble or shake or do even sway in the breeze until the final lap was done. Allison suggests that the battle many of those people were fighting on those seven days of walking was actually in their hearts and minds. Did they really trust God? He had told them what to do, but would He come through? They were investing a great deal into this – time, faith, energy, their reputations! What if it didn’t work? 

I started to see some of my circumstances through the eyes of this marching around the walls. The promise is there, has been given, has been reinforced a number of times, but there are not even any cracks beginning to show. Nothing seems to move. In fact, some of those walls seem to be getting bigger, getting stronger. Do I keep marching, or do I try something different? Maybe I heard wrong? Maybe I should be using a cannon while I walk, or a sledgehammer, or some dynamite, or, or…maybe I just give up and go home because it is all too hard.
And so I come back to this question:

Is God good?

Because if He is, if His word lives up to His promise, then it is a game changer. If I can really trust Him to come through, to cause all things to work together for good to those who love Him, (Rom 8:28), then I don’t need to look at the exterior, to what outward appearances would seem to say. I can have confidence that He will work His good purposes and plans to fruition. I just need to continue to do what He asks me.

In the face of difficulties, in the face of catastrophe, disaster, horrific circumstances, we each have to settle this question for ourselves. 

Is God good? 

If I am not 100% sure, if there is any part of me that struggles to hold on to that belief, then I have some work to do. There is a place that needs healing in me, there is a place I am still allowing fear to reside, a place where I believe what fear says rather than God. I have to break up my partnership with fear. I have to end the deal I have believing everything fear would say to me, and renew my partnership with God. I have to allow Him and His Word to soak into those fear-filled spaces. After all, perfect love casts out all fear. And there, in that place, where His love floods over and through me again, I am able to say with all my strength and conviction:



On the road again...(or Lessons from the road Part 2)

"Whatever you do, don't run into the screen door!"

These were my father's famous last words as he released me to ride alone. He was teaching me to ride a bike in our yard, and as I wobbled and peddled and hoped I wouldn't fall off, I rode straight into the screen door of the french window. 

This story has had a great workout in my family over the years, usually at my expense. I was about six or seven and my dad was helping me get my balance riding around in our garden. Knowing what I know now, there are a few things I would probably have done differently if I were my dad, one of them being the words he used. 

Through driving lessons and more recently, motorbike riding lessons,  I have repeatedly been told that we tend to go in the direction we look. That's how you get out of a skid - look where you want to go, and your brain will respond accordingly. So if someone mentions something like a screen door, you are likely to look at it, and hence, head straight for it!

However, when it comes to riding on a motorbike, I am struggling to put this into practice. Even though I have been riding pillion on the motorbike for some years now, cornering is still something of an issue. (Confession: I get scared.) As we lean into the corner, I often do battle with the fear that the bike is either going to tip or slide out, especially if there is any gravel about or it is a particularly tight curve. It is not a healthy or helpful way to ride!

In dealing with this problem as a rider now, I have been given similar tips by numerous people - obviously I am not alone in my fear! One of the main pointers is to look ahead to where you want to go. Don't look at the curve or look directly at the road you are on, but look up, look ahead. The other is to breathe out as you go around the corner, which perhaps helps you to relax.

Aside from the more irrational fears, there are many other aspects of the road that are far more dangerous for riders than those inside vehicles. Simple oily patches, gravel or potholes on the road can mean serious injury or even potential death if not dealt with appropriately. Riding in fear of all these, though, can be just as dangerous. 

Contrary to what seems natural, however, looking up, looking ahead at the direction we are going, we will find that we naturally avoid most hazards. Our brain is quite good at directing us if we don't over-think it. I am reminded of a time I was walking on a beach  covered in pebbles. I suddenly realised that without even thinking about it, or watching where I was walking (barefooted), I was choosing a path on the sand automatically avoiding stepping on the pebbles. Our brains are quite amazing at keeping us out of danger if we allow them to do their thing!


These principles can be applied far more widely than simply riding a bike, though. We can easily spend many aspects of our lives in fear. If we choose to focus on all the bad things that could happen, there is a never ending list. Just like when riding, if we focus on that pothole, that gravel on the side of the road, that screen door, we will, in all likelihood, end up in it.

We will head where we focus our attention.

 Just as true is the fact that what we think about, what we dwell on, will become the way we think. A favourite quote from a friend, is "don't think about pink elephants". What's the first thing that comes to mind?

We have to purposefully change our thinking. Paul puts it brilliantly in Philippians 4:5-8 "Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation...present your requests to God. And the peace of God,which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus...whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things...And the God of peace will be with you."

If we want to change our thinking, we have to practice thinking differently!

 And of course, we can tie ourselves in knots trying to change, as well, beating ourselves up with thoughts like "I have to stop thinking like this", which leads to the other helpful tip.


Just breathe.

Just breathe and relax. After all, most things are not as bad as we tend to think, and even if they are, all our stress and worry is not going to improve anything.

If we are walking in faith, we can stop everything and focus on simply breathing, on purely be-ing. Relaxing is the place of rest that is promised by God so regularly. When we live from this place of resting in Him, which is really about trusting Him, He becomes our focal point. Then we will find ourselves naturally changing direction, automatically avoiding those obstacles which endeavour to trip or waylay us. Over time, chances are we won't even notice them anymore!