Who Am I Becoming 11: Rest

I’ve decided to do something I’ve not done before. I’m blogging everyday throughout advent. This year has been quite something  and this series is seeking to distill some of the hard lessons I’ve learned this year in short daily blogs. All of these focus on a key question I have been asking myself ‘Who am I becoming?’

Holistic Well-Being 4: Rest

My Fatigue forced me to recognise that I was deeply unhealthy as a whole person. The person I was becoming was not one who was growing in wholeness and health, but one was who becoming increasingly unhealthy and dysfunctional. The implications of this not only effected my own well-being, but my family and all those I cared about. Something needed to change. In this second block of reflections I share some of the lessons I’ve learned about being holistically well and caring for myself. 

I thought I was pretty good at resting. I wasn’t one of those ministers who looked at emails on my day off. I always took my day off and didn’t work on it. That was the point right? But a nagging question was growing, what if ‘time off’ and ‘rest’ weren’t the same thing? Or more pointedly what if ‘not working’ didn’t equal ‘resting’. I had mastered not working, but resting was more elusive. It had been for years, I had always struggled to stop and not achieve. Days off were filled with doing all the housework, cramming in all my hobbies or finding lots of DIY projects to do. The focus was on achieving, or doing. As I’ve previously shared, I really wasn’t very good at the being  part. But fatigue forced me to rest, or at least to stop, I had no choice but to lie in bed. Though I still managed to find a great many ways to lie in bed but not rest: Read lots of book, watch films, allow my mind to race with all the things I’m not doing and missing out on…

It’s easy to look like you’re resting, it’s a lot harder to actually do it! I wouldn’t get better, nor become a healthy, balanced, functional human being – which is the kind of person I want to become! – if I didn’t learn how to rest. I needed to stop. Stop doing, stop thinking, stop planning, stop striving, and simply be. Just me being, knowing God was there and it was ok. A hard lesson to learn, and one I’m still learning. Many of these lessons have to be learned by practice. Choosing to live in a certain way, that then shapes the kind of person I am, and the kind of person I am becoming.

Proper rest is an on-going project. I’ve been greatly aided by the idea of ‘Sabbath’ – a ‘temple in time’ as Rabbi Heschel put it. A day when no work is done, which includes thinking about work, or achieving anything. Its a time to be, to delight, to rest, to worship and to be refreshed. It’s an act of resistance that says no to busyness, and endless achievement. It embraces my goodness as an image bearer of God, to do as he says and stop and be. It’s a choice, made every moment of that day, to resist all the things I could do and feel I should do. Instead I stop to remind myself that I am dependant on God alone. Everything else can wait. How freeing and liberating and deeply contrary to that inner drive within me, which is exactly why I need Sabbath in my life!

Questions For Reflection: When do you rest in your week? Is your ‘time off’ also rest or not? What practices might help you to rest? Can you go a whole day without ‘achieving’ anything?

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Who Am I Becoming 10: Non Anxious Presence

I’ve decided to do something I’ve not done before. I’m blogging everyday throughout advent. This year has been quite something  and this series is seeking to distill some of the hard lessons I’ve learned this year in short daily blogs. All of these focus on a key question I have been asking myself ‘Who am I becoming?’

Holistic Well-Being 4: Non Anxious Presence

My Fatigue forced me to recognise that I was deeply unhealthy as a whole person. The person I was becoming was not one who was growing in wholeness and health, but one was who becoming increasingly unhealthy and dysfunctional. The implications of this not only effected my own well-being, but my family and all those I cared about. Something needed to change. In this second block of reflections I share some of the lessons I’ve learned about being holistically well and caring for myself. 

As I recognised the compulsive behaviours driven by the ‘shoulds’ and ‘musts’ in my head, lamented my failure to care for my body and acknowledged that I had zero emotional maturity, I also realised I was actually a very anxious person! I did tell you it’s been quite a heavy and challenging year! I had explained away the anxiety as ‘stress’, or being ‘busy’ or something like that. But as I begun to pay more attention to my thoughts and where they went, I realised how often I got carried away into all kind of hypothetical future scenarios, all kinds of disasters, all the ways I wouldn’t be able to cope, all the things I needed to do. I called it ‘stress’. In reality it was anxiety.

I think of anxiety as living in my head – which means not being present to my body, the surroundings or the present moment – and then getting carried away with future possibilities. For me, this tends to be a recipe for disaster. The future can be a scary place, because anything can happen and it’s outside my control. This is where Reverse Therapy helped me yet again. It taught me I should seek to live in my body (as opposed to my head) and be present to the current moment (rather than the hypothetical future). Then there was a very simple question to ask. When I begun to get anxious about future scenarios, I simply had to ask myself:

‘Is there anything I can do about that right now?’ 

If the answer was ‘Yes’, I simply did it, if ‘No’ then it was fruitless thinking about it. It is easier said than done, but over time, that practice has made a huge difference. If I can’t do anything about it, there’s no point worrying about it. This has also been an opportunity to grow my trust in God.  Jesus said that whole thing about the birds and sparrows…  (Matthew 6:26-34) I’m trying to take that seriously, you know like Jesus meant what he was saying! Again easier said than done, but it’s about who I’m becoming one day at a time.

The second practice i’ve already hinted at, is being present. This ties together all that I’ve said so far. Being present means being in our bodies and so receptive to the emotional signals we receive in them, and so resisting our minds taking us off in all kinds of directions. Mindfulness has been really helpful. At its most basic, it is simply tuning in to my body and surroundings. This then naturally leads into contemplative prayer. By  being present to myself and the moment I begin to recognise that God is here with me.

The person I want to become is one who is a non-anxious presence. Someone who is fully present and able to help others do the same. Actively fighting the anxiety of the world and knowing God’s calming presence in every situation.

Questions for Reflection: When did I last feel anxious? What would it mean to be fully present to my current moment? What is my body doing right now? Do I worry about the future?

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Who Am I Becoming 9: Emotional Health

I’ve decided to do something I’ve not done before. I’m blogging everyday throughout advent. This year has been quite something  and this series is seeking to distill some of the hard lessons I’ve learned this year in short daily blogs. All of these focus on a key question I have been asking myself ‘Who am I becoming?’

Holistic Well-Being 3: Emotional Health

My Fatigue forced me to recognise that I was deeply unhealthy as a whole person. The person I was becoming was not one who was growing in wholeness and health, but one was who becoming increasingly unhealthy and dysfunctional. The implications of this not only effected my own well-being, but my family and all those I cared about. Something needed to change. In this second block of reflections I share some of the lessons I’ve learned about being holistically well and caring for myself. 

Learning about emotional health has been the single most important learning point this year. Practicing healthy emotional expression was one of the main things that began to shift the fatigue and so empower me to reject the false stories and embrace God’s love and acceptance. I’m genuinely not overstating the case here, this has truly changed my life.

As someone with a long history of with depression, I have tended to view my emotions with suspicion and even fear, as fickle things with such power to take me to dark places. A number of years ago I naively attempted to stop having emotions completely for a period of time. It didn’t work. At. All. Behind this terrible idea were several ‘stories’ ‘Showing Emotion is showing weakness’ said the voice in my head. ‘You’re not allowed to be angry’ said another. ‘Men don’t cry’ was yet a third. I obeyed these voices and it made me ill.

Because of these false stories, I had decades of emotional backlog. Years of  pressing them down inside me, rather than accepting and embracing them as part of my humanity. Essential to our God given embodiedness is our emotions. It is how God made us to be, and as one of my church members helpfully shared last week, they are a key way that we experience and respond to God.

Emotional health is central to Reverse Therapy, which explains some of the neuroscience behind how they work. In a nut shell, our body produces emotions, in our bodies, in order to communicate something to us for our ongoing survival and flourishing. Our Bodies are constantly taking in crazy amounts of sensory data and cross checking it against our cellular memories looking for dangers and challenges. When there’s a match it produces an emotion. Whether it’s a positive one such as, that’s my wife, memories show that being with her increases wellbeing, here’s some more Joy to encourage you to spend time with her. Or a negative, that person is infringing on your space and dignity, here’s some anger to encourage you to stand up for yourself and push back.

This approach demystified emotions for me, which empowered me to see them for what they are, as well as their benefits. The problem occurs when we ignore the emotional signals. Even if we ignore it, our body is still triggering the emotion, waiting for us to act on it. Over time, this  can lead to physical manifestations, such as fatigue. It’s possible to have a backlog of unexpressed emotions just sitting there in your body. That’s the opposite of emotional health. It was also my reality.

I’ve had to learn two key things, which have changed my life. First, is to recognise my body’s emotional signals – that feeling in my stomach, that gritting of my teeth – and translate what it is telling me. The second is to then learn how to  healthily  and appropriately express the emotion. With the emotion expressed, the body turns it off and goes back into rest. This is a state of emotional health. It needs maintaining through regular emotional expression.

Alongside this, I have also had to express a huge, HUGE backlog of unprocessed emotions. A whole load of anger and plenty of crying and sadness. Doing so has made a difference like you wouldn’t imagine – A spring cleaning of the soul of sorts. Learning that God can handle all my emotions (modelled well to us by the Psalms) helped unlock this backlog. As I said, it has genuinely changed my life. I want to keep this post short, so I’ve stuck an appendix below on further resources for digging deeper.

Questions For Reflection: What emotions am I feeling right now? What emotions do I feel uncomfortable expressing? When was the last time i got angry or cried? What signals does my body give to me as clues to emotions I am feeling?

Appendix: Further Resources

I want to keep the reflections short. But this topic is so, so important to me and really has changed my life. There’s so much more I could say, but for now I want to point to some other resources to help you dig deeper if this is something that has resonated with you.

Firstly Reverse Therapy.com. Here you can find out more about the approach and Dr John Eaton, the man behind it. You can also purchase a PDF introduction to the approach, or the full book which expands on this core material. Both helped me so, so much. Jonathan can also offer therapy via Skype if you are suffering from an unexplained illness. Highly recommend his work, even if you’re not experiencing an unexplained illness.

A Second key resource is Emotionally Healthy Spirituality . This is an approach, series of books and courses produced by Pete Scazzero, an American pastor. His first book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality was one of the best books I read this year. He puts forward that emotional health combined with contemplative spirituality really helps us to grow as disciples as well as healthy, whole human beings. There is a whole load more out there building on this model (emotionally healthy discipleship, emotionally healthy relationships). But the first book is the best place to start.

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Who Am I Becoming 8: Physical Well-Being

I’ve decided to do something I’ve not done before. I’m blogging everyday throughout advent. This year has been quite something  and this series is seeking to distill some of the hard lessons I’ve learned this year in short daily blogs. All of these focus on a key question I have been asking myself ‘Who am I becoming?’

Holistic Well-Being 2: Physical Well-Being

My Fatigue forced me to recognise that I was deeply unhealthy as a whole person. The person I was becoming was not one who was growing in wholeness and health, but one was who becoming increasingly unhealthy and dysfunctional. The implications of this not only effected my own well-being, but my family and all those I cared about. Something needed to change. In this second block of reflections I share some of the lessons I’ve learned about being holistically well and caring for myself. 

I’m starting with perhaps the obvious dimension of health. Our physical well-being. I want to make clear that I am not trying to draw distinctions between the different components of well-being. They all overlap and affect one another – this is a key point I am trying to make. We are whole, complex, integrated people. Reverse Therapy helped teach me that responding to my fatigue had to include more than just my body, though its not a bad place to start.

I’ve always rather taken my body for granted, I’ve got a pretty decent immune system, no major long term problems and it has always worked rather well for me. The problem is those last three words: Well. For. Me. It reveals that my body serves my mind, it is something to control and get to do my bidding. It’s an inconvenience when it breaks down and gets in the way of doing the things I want. In essence, it’s a slave that is useful when it allows my mind to achieve and make things happen.

The fundamental truth that i came to see, was that I do not have  a body. I am a body. My existence is embodied. My body is who I am. I will never be holistically well when I don’t respect my body as a full and valuable part of me. Something, or better someone, to be cared for, respected and valued for being more than just a tool.

The fatigue began with illness after illness, heavy cold, tonsillitis, sinusitis, pounding headache, ear infection… Every-time I thought I was ‘well’ and got back to making my body do lots of things, something else flared up. My body was trying to tell me something. Simon, you are not ok. It just took me a while to listen.

I have had to learn to care for, even cherish, my body, as one of the greatest gifts God has given me. Sleep, food and exercise are not resources to consume in order to power productivity, but sacred tasks of embodied living. Being human means being a body. Caring for myself has to include caring for my body.

This is an on-going journey. This past year I have gone back to physio to iron out various niggling pains and problems which I have been pushing through for years. Taking the time to bring my body back into alignment and balance, to show it care and gratitude, and help it to move as well as it can. I treat illness differently too. I see it as a sign that I am out of balance and not well, and so must respond holistically. I try and get outside every day, i try and hit my 10,000 steps, I choose to eat healthy, nutritional sustainable food. God has given me a body that I need to steward and care for to honour him, myself, and my family.

Questions for Reflection: How do feel about your body? How do you feel about the phrase ‘I am a body’? Do you care for your body and treat it with respect? What would that look like? 

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Who Am I Becoming 7: Holistic Well-Being

I’ve decided to do something I’ve not done before. I’m blogging everyday throughout advent. This year has been quite something  and this series is seeking to distill some of the hard lessons I’ve learned this year in short daily blogs. All of these focus on a key question I have been asking myself ‘Who am I becoming?’

Holistic Well-Being: Introduction

My Fatigue forced me to recognise that I was deeply unhealthy as a whole person. The person I was becoming was not one who was growing in wholeness and health, but one was who becoming increasingly unhealthy and dysfunctional. The implications of this not only effected my own well-being, but my family and all those I cared about. Something needed to change. In this second block of reflections I share some of the lessons I’ve learned about being holistically well and caring for myself. 

At first I assumed that I had ‘post-viral’ fatigue. A condition that can occur after some nasty viruses that leave you wiped for a while. It was convenient to view it that way, it kept it at arms length as a purely physical illness. If it is simply post viral, i just had to rest and wait, no soul searching needed. However, as always, God wasn’t going to let me off the hook quite so easily.

I’ve already shared how resting produced multiple existential crises in and of itself, but it was only going to get worse. I was incredibly fortunate to have a friend (Thank you Liz!!) who had also suffered from periods of fatigue herself, she had overcome these with the help of a something called ‘Reverse Therapy‘. Off the back of her recommendation I looked into it, and what it revealed changed my life. This short reflection is not the place for a detailed explanation of Reverse Therapy . It will suffice to say, that what it revealed was that many unexplained illnesses (such as fatigue) are caused by a deep state of dis-ease as a human being – What Reverse Therapy calls Bodily Distress Syndrome. I was not well in any sense of the word, body, mind, spirit, emotions and all. The Fatigue was simply the manifestation of a complex, multi-dimensional, deep illness that saturated my whole being. A holistic approach was needed.

It was Reverse Therapy that first introduced me to the concept of the ‘stories’ we tell ourselves. How our minds can actually work against us and our well-being by feeding us lies that produce compulsive behaviours. They normally begin with the words must or should or have to. Some examples include:

  • I should not show weakness
  • I must be in control
  • I must be successful
  • I have to get it right
  • I should not be sad/angry

This was eye-opening as I began to recognise all the stories I was telling myself, and how this lead to compulsive behaviours such as control issues, social anxiety, an inability to say No, fear of failure, perfectionism and more!  The lights had come on and these stories were exposed for what they were! Liberation had begun.

I wanted to be growing in health and wholeness, not ever growing dysfunction. This journey towards holistic well-being is what I want to share over these next five reflections, exploring physical and emotional health as well as fighting anxiety, true rest and prayer.

Questions For Reflection: Am I healthy? What does that even mean? Do I have any compulsive thought patterns or behaviours? 

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Who am I Becoming 6: Viewing Others Afresh

I’ve decided to do something I’ve not done before. I’m blogging everyday throughout advent. This year has been quite something  and this series is seeking to distill some of the hard lessons I’ve learned this year in short daily blogs. All of these focus on a key question I have been asking myself ‘Who am I becoming?’

Foundation 5: Viewing Others Afresh

My first five reflections focus on ‘foundations’, the things that I believe underpin everything else I do, think and say – the drivers behind how we live. Examining these foundations – and finding most of them deeply unhealthy – has been a key part of my journey.

As I became more comfortable and content to simply be. As the reality of God’s love for me sunk in. As I begun to inhabit a new story and so move in the unforced rhythms of grace. I also begun to view others differently, realising that they too were infinitely precious to God and worthy of love. This love I was beginning to experience for myself was available to everyone! Again, it may seem really, really obvious and basic, God loves everyone, but it took on whole new meaning for me. 

This love I was experiencing, this new way of being in the world that was producing so much good fruit, was what God desires for everyone. Life in all its fullness as Jesus puts it. In the small number of people I’ve met and spent time with, it’s been painfully obvious just how many people struggle with low self esteem, with anxiety and with striving to feel that their life has meaning and value. It’s tragic. But I get it, I really do, and this is a key motivation for sharing these advent reflections – The hope that in some way it might help others move into greater wholeness, peace and joy.

When I no longer needed to earn other’s love, to do, do, do, to convince myself of my own value, how I saw other people radically changed. I no longer primarily saw them as threat – someone who might judge and reject me – or as someone to be used to create a sense of value – looking for compliments, praise and affirmation. I didn’t feel the need to use people in the way that I did before, only I was oblivious to the fact that that had been what I was doing!

Other people became beautiful children of God who needed to know they were loved, accepted and of great value, just as I did. This gave a whole new dimension to my vocation, not just as a Priest but as Husband, Father, Son, Brother and Friend. I had a whole new desire for my life to be one that helped others to inhabit a new story and know God’s love for themselves. It became apparent that this could happen in very simple ways. Showing an interest, listening carefully, being there, telling them how great they are and fighting all the lies of their false story. What a joy and privilege to partner with God in this work.

Questions For Reflection: How do you see other people? What emotions do you feel when entering social situations with people you don’t know? What makes a good friend?

We’ve come to the end of my first block on foundations, where I’ve laid out the key truths that I believe will enable me to become the person I want to become: A life lived out of healthy being, by immersing myself in the story of God’s love that it might spill over into the lives of others. I will be posting a summary video on my facebook page this evening at 7pm if you’re interested.

Tomorrow we will begin my second block on holistic well-being.

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Who Am I Becoming 5: Entering the Cycle of Grace

I’ve decided to do something I’ve not done before. I’m blogging everyday throughout advent. This year has been quite something  and this series is seeking to distill some of the hard lessons I’ve learned this year in short daily blogs. All of these focus on a key question I have been asking myself ‘Who am I becoming?’

Foundation 3: Entering The Cycle of Grace

My first five reflections focus on ‘foundations’, the things that I believe underpin everything else I do, think and say – the drivers behind how we live. Examining these foundations – and finding most of them deeply unhealthy – has been a key part of my journey.

I’ve shared that healthy doing flows from healthy being, and healthy being is grounded in the radical love and acceptance of God expressed in a healthy story of who we are. This is often illustrated by the cycle of grace/cycle of grief:

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In the Cycle of Grace, our doing is flowing from our being which is grounded in acceptance, sustenance and identity in Christ. If we reverse the cycle, starting from our achievement or fruitfulness, we enter the cycle of grief, using our achievements to create a sense of identity and acceptance.

While I didn’t truly believe that I was completely accepted and loved by God – and by extension didn’t accept and love myself – I was stuck in an endless cycle of trying to create for myself worth and value by doing. It extended beyond just my work, but into my hobbies too! Achievements or progress in my hobbies became yet another way to fabricate identity and meaning for myself. With small children, time for other interests dramatically decreased and so my ability to continue to manufacture my sense of worth got less and less, leading to a great deal of frustration.

But the story ends well. Despite my slowness in grasping this Christian basic, now that it has sunk in – and sunk in deep – I feel like a different person! Now I believe – not only rationally, intellectually or theoretically – that God actually completely and utterly accepts me. God believes I am good, no, excellent and wonderful and full of potential, and that he desires to love me into fulfilling that potential. Suddenly the  world became a very different place. I discovered new confidence, new joy, new peace and contentment! For the first time in my life I believed I was worthy of love and was a unique gift to the world. 

This has become the absolute foundation for everything I want to be, and central to what I want to pass on to my children. I am radically and completely accepted by God without having to do anything. I am loved, and precious and beautiful in his sight. I have tremendous God-given potential that I have to share with his world. This is true for everyone. Not just those i like or agree with or understand or enjoy being with. Every person ever made is a beautiful, precious child of God, even you, and my vocation, as a follower of Jesus, is to treat people in a way that allows them to know that that is true and so gain a deeper knowledge of God’s love for themselves. For that is what it means to be truly human. More on this tomorrow.

Instead of questions for reflection I want offer you this song, it meant a lot to me as I began to grasp God’s love with the simple question, what is your reaction to it?

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