Wow, what days we live in!
It used to be that, living at this end of the globe, we always felt we were kind of unaffected by all that took place around the globe. Possibly 9/11 was the first time we began to realize that maybe things were changing; maybe the world is not such a big place after all. That event was one of those, ‘I remember when’ moments. I remember getting a call at 4am from my son – “Dad, you need to turn on the TV......”
A friend of his, Anita Gaul, (some of you may remember the Gaul’s when they worshipped with us in the Halswell New Life days), was living in New York at the time, and she had been on the phone to Andrew for some time giving him a running commentary of events as she sat on the balcony of her flat, some 3 or 4 kilometres away from the Twin Towers.
We used to think we could live somewhat distanced and aloof from all that happened out there in the big wide world. Now pandemics, earthquakes, terrorism, international politics, and weird weather patterns are all affecting us, just like they did the rest of the planet.
The wild winds of a few weeks ago set me to thinking, especially after visiting the Colgate/Whitecliffs area a few days ago. Trees were down all over the place, rubbish was everywhere and farm buildings were in all sorts of demolished states. Looking at one massive tree lying on the ground, branches and roots sticking out in all directions, set my mind on a series of thoughts over the course of a few days, that have ended up being the catalyst for this blog.
I don’t know about you, but my wife and I really enjoyed the lockdown period that preceded that wild storm. The phone didn’t go too often, the weather was marvellous, and we enjoyed catching up on some reading, some listening to teaching material we weren’t getting time for, and we had time to do an awful lot of gardening that we had got behind on.
But that wasn’t the case for quite a number of others around us. Some folks struggled financially, and others suffered relationally, and still others were incredibly unsettled by the diversity of the debate around aspects of the pandemic, which sadly, in some cases, divided households.
My mind was drawn to the old Priscilla Owens’ hymn:
Will your anchor hold in the storms of life,
When the clouds unfold their wings of strife?
When the storm tides lift and the cables strain,
Will your anchor drift or firm remain?
We have an anchor that keeps the soul
Steadfast and sure while the billows roll;
Fastened to the Rock which cannot move,
Grounded firm and deep in the Saviour’s love.
Sometimes, when those ‘storms of life’ hit us we can be caught a little off guard, and we really do need to remind ourselves that we have that amazing Anchor.
As I looked at that tree, though, I began to think of 3 words I was hearing quite frequently through a number of different media – resilience, flexibility and adaptability. Like never before we sure need an anchor for our soul, but we also, in this ever changing world, need to be able to adapt and be more resilient and flexible.
I looked at some of those trees and noted that some must have had a very shallow root system, which would certainly have impacted on their ability to stand in such a storm. But not all of them were like that. Some had a very large and broad root system that went deep, and yet, when the ferocity of the storm got a hold of them they succumbed.
And then I looked at a lot of the trees still standing. Some had broken limbs, and others looked a little battle scarred, but they were still standing. Just like the trees lying on the ground, they’d been buffeted around by those incredible winds, but they’d some how been more flexible.
They were able to bend and flex with those strong gusts, and come out the other side still standing tall and strong.
Quite apart from the diversity of stuff that has begun to affect us in this part of the globe, life in general has a habit of throwing those unexpected storms and curveballs at us when we least expect, and the diversity of that kind of stuff these days buffets us around and throws its own challenges that really test our strength and flexibility.
Like never before we need to look at how flexible, adaptable and resilient we really are. How strongly have we anchored our ‘root system’ into Him? How well have we developed the trunk and branches of our tree upon the foundations of the Word of God, and who we are In Him? And how well are we nurturing that trunk and those branches, ensuring that they are well fed, nurtured and protected with good worship and fellowship?
In the course of my pondering I read this little sentence: “...a healthy level of adaptability lends itself to a more healthy relationship”. Now, while it was set in the context of a word to married couples, it is also relevant to us as individuals. Being flexible and adaptable means that when the buffeting, adversity or stresses of life infiltrate our quiet, peaceful existence – and I hear what some of you are saying: “Yeah right” – we ARE able to make it through and bounce back.
Unfortunately, too often, in the busyness of life, we pass through the buffeting, unhappy with the way we responded or reacted, and move on, without realizing that the more we do that, the more inflexible we tend to become, and the more we are open to react, rather than respond, in the future. But we can actually strengthen our flexibility, resilience and adaptability muscles.
Sometimes we just need to press the ‘pause’ button, stopping in the aftermath of those moments, to reflect on how things went so pear shaped, how we reacted so badly, what were the triggers that sent me out of kilt.
By doing so we can actually become much more resilient.
A verse my wife often quotes from The Living Bible comes to mind: “Your attitudes and thoughts must always be constantly changing for the better” (Eph.4:23 Living Bible). Sometimes we give married couples that we see a piece of advice, which I think applies here...
When things get out of kilt, when you respond or react badly to something, set some time aside to consider how things went so horribly wrong, and talk it through together. Take some time to reflect. Consider the events as they unfolded, and how you handled yourself. Be mindful of how, and why, you got so upset and irritated. What triggered those reactions? Can you see a pattern to similar situations, or previous occasions, when those reactions and irritations got out of hand?
It’s a great thing for married couples - making yourself so vulnerable to each other in that way - as it’s a great relationship builder. But for all of us, asking similar questions of someone else close to us whom we trust, and talking something like this through with them, helps immensely in getting a better perspective. And in turn it helps us map a way forward to change, allowing us in the process to become more flexible and adaptable going forward – to “...be constantly changing for the better.”
In the busyness of the world we live in today, adaptability and flexibility are greatly undervalued, both for individuals and couples. It flies under the radar, as it were, because, hey, when do I have time to press that ‘pause’ button? When do I have time to stop and really dissect the way that last storm derailed me? Or we say to ourselves, "I don’t know that in talking to someone I’d be really able to put my thoughts together adequately to properly talk it through."
Rather we tend, either consciously or sub-consciously, to think, “She’ll be right; I’ll work on handling myself better next time.” In the process we miss the moment to add some resilience, to make some “change for the better”, that will allow us to be better prepared for that next storm life has a habit of throwing our way, and thereby become more adaptable and flexible in the process.
In Ephesians 4 there’s no doubt that Paul, in making the comment in verse 23 about “always changing for the better”, is talking about a raft of the more serious issues of our old life and character – impure thoughts and actions, lying, stealing, bitterness, anger, gossip and the like – but I wonder if becoming more resilient when those nasty little storms catch us broadside fits the broader scope of always trying to “change for the better” In Him.
To delve into why we react and respond the way we do, and to deliberately come up with strategies to respond better when those negative feelings and irritations begin to surface, is a great way to cushion the bumps and blows, to strengthen our resilience, adaptability and flexibility in these trying times, and be “constantly changing for the better” In Him.
Stan Beale has been part of Living Waters Christian Centre for over 20 years now. He and his wife Ronnie head up the Marriage Equipping Department and have a heart to see couples grow not only as couples, but as individuals. They run yearly Marriage Courses, as well as providing individual pre-marriage or marriage counselling. Stan also heads up the carpark team and helps in Mens Groups, Connect Groups and other ministries of the church and community.