Life ‘on the outside’ is scary

In the 1994 movie The Shawshank Redemption, a character named Red (played by Morgan Freeman) speaks to new inmate Heywood (William Sadler) about a prisoner who’s been serving there a long time…

“The man’s been in here fifty years, Heywood. Fifty years! This is all he knows. In here, he’s an important man. He’s an educated man. Outside, he’s nothin’! Just a used-up con with arthritis in both hands. Couldn’t even get a library card if he applied. You see what I’m saying?
These walls are funny. First you hate ‘em, then you get used to ‘em. Enough time passes… you get so you depend on them.
They send you here for life, and that’s exactly what they take. The part that counts, anyway.”

ShawshankRedemptionMoviePoster

The film is a fascinating insight into the impact of imprisonment. It shows how, even when ‘free’, some inmates prefer their old life. They’re so used to the prison routine that they don’t know how to live anywhere else.

I think we can all relate to this on some level. There might be areas of our life where we’re entrapped, imprisoned. But the prospect of change is terrifying. Life outside the walls might be less consistent, less ‘safe’ – and breaking free might make us feel more caged-in than ever before. We’re afraid of the unknown – the unfamiliar – so we remain in our shell. Unmoving.

Victims of abuse can suffer from this mentality. As the quote says, first they hate it, then they get used to it – then they might, in a strange way, depend on it. Abuse is the only reality they’ve ever known. In the worst cases, the victim becomes a perpetrator too because they’ve never understood the pattern they are in.

When true freedom doesn’t seem so ‘liberating’, we are stuck. When old ways become the only way, we are frozen.

Only when we unlock the door, dream about the possibilities outside, and dare to step out – do we find there’s a whole other world out there. We don’t have to be victims of our past. We don’t have to stay entrapped. There are always people who can help us find courage – and wings.

“Be brave for us…”

A few months back I was deeply impacted by a girl who spoke as part of a mixed-age women’s gathering. She candidly shared some of the hardships of teen life, and emphasised the need for strong role models. With tears she spoke five words I’ll never forget:

“Please… Be brave for us.”

She represented a community of youth who desperately needed strength and resilience modelled to them. A tribe of girls who wanted to know what bravery looked like as they faced uncertain futures.

Her words made me consider how I could better love those in my care. How I could show what a courageous life lived for God looked like.

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And tonight I read this article by Jackie Knapp about the reality of suffering in the ‘best years of our life’ – and the importance of hearing our ‘elders’ talk about it.

Knapp writes:

“We… need to hear from the older generations, how they have faced hard things and fought for faith. We need their perspective, their wisdom, their words spoken into our lives. We want to hear more from our pastors and leaders about how they move though struggles.

We wish the church were more honest, that we didn’t feel alone there in our addictions and sin and heartbreak, that we could walk in and be real. Most of us don’t care all that much about the music style and building aesthetics. We long for transparent relationships with people who are willing to enter our mess and point us to Jesus.

[We need] to teach them that even the ‘best’ years of their lives will include heartache and pain. We want them to have all the excitable idealism of being young, but we want that enthusiasm to be met with wisdom and tempered with reality. Most of all, we want to tell them of all the good we found along the way, how we learned to live again – and how we look to our next decades with hope that God is making something new out of our crushed expectations.”

Amen!

…Have you considered sharing your “crushed expectations” with someone younger than you?

Youth need ‘real talk’ as much as anyone. Let’s cheer them on – be brave for them… And part of that bravery involves sharing honestly our own disappointments, heartbreaks, failures and triumphs.

God blessed me with a number of wise role models in my youth. They rejoiced in my successes, held me close in my hearbreak, and pointed me towards a God who loved me more than they. I remember the tears and the nurturing well. They didn’t pretend that life got better – but they gave me hope that I’d become better at working things out.

I want to be a role model like that.

And I want to be brave – not just for them, but for me.

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)

Modern-day idolatry

Have you ever idolised something, only to find it disappointing in the end?

In the Bible the prophet Isaiah had something to say to the idol-worshipping people of Israel, who’d lost faith in God and been captivated instead by the things they believed could guide them or save them.

He addresses them in chapter 40:25,26 with these words from God:

“To whom then will you liken Me,
Or to whom shall I be equal?” says the Holy One.
Lift up your eyes on high,
And see who has created these things,
Who brings out their host by number;
He calls them all by name,
By the greatness of His might
And the strength of His power.”

God is reminding his people that the objects they ascribe such honour to are simply the things he created. They can’t be compared to him.

Sometimes we become so distracted by the created things that we forget to look up to their Creator.

Matthew Henry described an idol as something we esteem or love, fear or hope in more than God. We might not ‘worship’ it as such – but we allow it a place in our life that is above God. We allow that thing – whether it’s a relationship, career, money, others’ approval, family, power/control, or popularity – more sway over our decision-making than God. Our fear of losing it trumps our fear of losing our relationship with God. That’s what makes it an idol, even though the thing in itself isn’t necessarily bad.

May we bow our knees only to the one who made us, who named us, who calls us his. And turn from worshipping the things which so easily distract us from his incomparable greatness, goodness, and love.

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Defining our values

I’ve just finished reading a book called Beyond Boundaries by Dr. John Townsend (the co-author of the original Boundaries book).

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The first book defined what it means to set loving limits around our lives so we can experience healthier relationships. It’s one of the best ‘self-help’ books I’ve read.

Beyond Boundaries expands on this concept, and explores the idea of ‘defining boundaries’.

Townsend says defining boundaries are those which establish who you are and who you’re not. “They are at the core of your identity and reflect what you believe is important and valuable in life,” he explains.

Such values might include:

“I follow God and his ways and will always live my life in him,” or “I will always be growing and will not get off the path”.

Defining boundaries help others to know who you are – the real you. And your values will help guide your decisions in life.

I believe knowing our core values, and knowing what we will and won’t tolerate from others, is vital to the way we start – and maintain – healthy relationships.

It’s easier said than done. We need God’s help – and the help of wise friends – to keep doing the work of setting boundaries.

Who are you, really? What are your core values?

I’ll start by sharing a few of my own:

* God is the centre of my life and my reason for being. Through Jesus he has won my heart, and no other relationship will come before him.

* I believe all people have value, even though not all make healthy choices. All people, including myself, are worthy of forgiveness and grace.

* Each person has been given at least one gift or talent from God. With his help we can use it and express it during the space of our life.

* I believe it’s important to be authentic – to say what you think, boldly and with love.

* If we value ourselves, we’ll teach others to value us too. Good relationships start with a strong sense of identity and healthy self-esteem.

* God has a purpose for my life, but life is made up of many small choices squeezed into each day. I hope not to be so distracted by ‘the bigger picture’ that I lose sight of my Heavenly Father’s daily directives. Ultimately, I’m on the ‘home stretch’ to Heaven, and I want to live a life that leads others there too.

Thanks for letting me share these with you :) May we each live valuable lives that bring glory and honour to our King.

- Ali

Flawed friendships

Anyone who’s had a friend in their lifetime knows what it’s like to be hurt, disappointed, let down.

Anyone who’s been a friend knows what it’s like to hurt. To disappoint. To let down.

It’s as if relationships are designed to reveal our flaws. Our quirks. Our weaknesses.

And point us towards the only One who’s flawless.

And when we’re satisfied in Him, we have more realistic expectations of the people in our lives.

When that aching abyss in us is filled by God, we stop putting them on pedestals.

We realise they are the icing – not the cake…

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Dear Lord,
Thank you that you’re the “friend who sticks closer than a brother”, as Proverbs 18:24 says.
No one will ever match you as companion, Saviour, or Lord. You’re everything we need, all at once, for all time.
May we choose to rejoice in your goodness when we’re tempted to rehearse our disappointments.
May we find our security first and foremost in your arms.
And appreciate the beauty of the people you bring into our lives at just the right time.
Thank you for friendship, and thank you for being our best friend as well as our King.
In Jesus’ name we pray,
Amen.

Really, really busy!

‘How’s your week been?’

‘Oh… good. Busy!’

It’s a common refrain in our fast-paced lives.

Most people know it’s important to slow down and take a break sometimes, but busyness is often worn like a badge of honour. It’s almost as if it doesn’t matter how we spend our time – as long as we’re seen to be really, really busy.

While the Bible encourages us in our work, it also speaks about rest.

In the Creation account (Genesis 2:2-3) we see a holy precedent of one rest day out of seven:

“By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.”

In Mark 6 we see Jesus advising his apostles to rest in the midst of a busy time:

“Because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest’.”

Matthew 11:28 also describes the kind of rest that can only be found in Jesus.

He says: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Jesus simply asks that we come to Him, in the midst of everything that demands our attention, and find rest for our souls.

Weary? Burdened? Broken? Simply come to him, his truth, and his Word – and rest…

Image courtesy of leadersandlattes.com

Image courtesy of leadersandlattes.com

Standing in grace

A simple verse and prayer for you today:

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.” (Romans 5:1-2)

Dear Lord Jesus,
Thank you that I’ve been justified – made right – with you. And not because of the things I’ve done. Our relationship was restored through a simple act of little-girl faith, many years ago.
And since I’ve been justified, I have peace with you, through Jesus. Life-reviving, mind-altering peace…
And it’s you Jesus, who also offers grace.
Thank you that I can stand in this grace, as your Word says. Again, it’s unearned favour. Blessing that comes to me not because of who I am, but because of who you are.
Grace to wash away my darkest sins… Grace to get me through the day and all it brings… Grace to pass on to the angry and hurting.
May my feet stay firmly planted in grace.
In Jesus’ name,
Amen

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