Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Knocking on My Door

We have just celebrated Christmas 2017 and another year is drawing to a close.  It is that time of the year when we take a look at the year which has passed.  We take stock of the ups and downs, the good and the bad and the progress we have made.  It is a time of quiet reflection and usually a time for making some resolutions for the coming year.

I, myself, am pondering the Christmas story and the significance of it in my life.  We are all familiar with this event on the Christian calendar.  For most of us the story starts with an expectant mother and her husband making their way to Bethlehem.  Arriving in the city after a tiresome journey, the husband desperately looks for a place where they can rest for the night.  However, everywhere he inquires he is turned away.  The places are full.  There is no place for the Son of God to be born. Finally, an innkeeper shows the pair to a stable.  So often the Lord also knocks on our door.  He calls to us to open our lives to him and to give him a place in our busy schedules, but every time we turn him away.  We are too busy and our lives are filled with so many things that we have no time or place for him.  We erroneously believe that there will be more time later for that.  We just want to first do this or that before we welcome him into our daily lives.  We first need to make it to the top of our careers, marry the perfect spouse, raise our children, travel the world and spend our spare time pursuing all the pleasures the world is offering us, before we invite the Lord to stay.

Maybe it is time to open the door and let him in.  Maybe it is time for him to sit at our table, to take up permanent residence in our lives and to be the guest of honour.  Listen, he is standing at your door right now, knocking...

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Are You Listening?

I came across this Turkish proverb today: "Speaking is silver; listening is gold."
I thought about this and realized that it is indeed true. Maybe the saying "Silence is golden" comes from this proverb.  
Communication is an integral part of human existence.  It is essential.  From the minute a baby is born, it starts to develop its communication skills.  A mother becomes finely tuned in to her baby's every little sound and she listens closely and pays careful attention to its needs.  Communication consists out of verbal and non-verbal communication.  Talking and listening is its key components, but a hug or a gentle touch can speak just as loudly.  Most people are quite adept at talking, in fact, most people love talking, but unfortunately they are not so keen to listen.  However, it is actually our skills at listening that makes communication more successful.  When we listen, we learn things about the other person that can help us to continue with the conversation.  When we listen, we have the opportunity to observe what the words used are not communicating.
However, listening does not come easily, despite the fact that we have been created with twice the tools to listen than what we have to talk. So what does it mean to really LISTEN?  I have made an acronym out of it:

L = Look the other person in the eyes.
I = Intently hear the words and observe the body language
S = Stay quiet
T = Tune out other thoughts and distractions
E = Ensure you understand correctly
N = Never interrupt

Remembering these six points will greatly enhance your listening skills.  To effectively listen it is necessary for you to take time away from what you are busy with.  Put away your tools, your book or your phone and pay attention to the person talking to you.  You have to make eye-contact with the person.  You have to focus on the speaker and focus on what is being said and HOW it is being said.  You have to clear your mind of your own ideas and perceptions.  Do not just pretend to be listening, the other person will quickly catch on and the conversation will be unsuccessful.  Being busy with other things while having a conversation is very distracting to both you and the person talking and will not instill a sense of trust with the other person.  Do not ever judge the conversation, or what is being said, this will make you unable to truly hear what is being communicated.  Be careful not to drift off, stay focused. Never listen just so that you can comment and talk about your own experience and never take it personally.  Body language can often give more away about a particular situation than the words themselves, therefore it is important to carefully observe the body language of the speaker.  Remember, listening to somebody does not mean you agree with their point of view, it just means that you are an ear and a shoulder to cry on.

We all need somebody to talk to, to share our joy and heartache with.  Somebody that will not judge us, force advice on us or reject us, but are just willing to listen.  We do not even want somebody to fix our problems for us, but just somebody that will hear us.  The world is full of people desperately crying out to be heard. Having somebody to talk to make us feel warm, loved and cared for.  It is like finding an oasis in an arid land.  It helps to lighten our burdens.  For some it can even be a lifeline. Let us try to become people who listen twice as much as what we talk.  Let us be that soft place to fall for a weary friend.

Monday, 11 December 2017

Behind The Wall

We as humans are fairly quick studies.  Through the ages, in order to survive and prosper, we had to search for answers and solutions to problems. We had to discover and learn everything we could about the world we live in.  As we have gathered information we have adapted to new ideas and environments.  Today, more than ever, we are constantly processing information and evolving.  All in order to ensure our survival as humans.  In fact, survival is the single most powerful need, one all of us have in common.  Whenever we feel threatened, or fear danger, our first instinct is to protect ourselves, either by fleeing or fighting.  This urge to protect ourselves is not only limited to our physical well-being, we also take care to protect ourselves emotionally and spiritually.

It is this need for safety which have compelled people throughout history to build forts and castles.  Villages would be surrounded by huge walls and battlements.  In modern society we hide behind walls, electrical fences and security barriers.  Emotionally, we build walls around our hearts. Behind these walls we feel safe.  No one can breach our defenses. Nobody can exploit our vulnerability.  They cannot hurt us and they cannot see our pain.  There is a lot of good to be said about the protection the walls give us. However, living behind these walls comes at a price.  There are distinct disadvantages.  It is impossible to see beyond these walls.  We become cut-off from reality.  We are in danger of becoming lonely and cynical.  We are unable to see the beauty which lies beyond the walls.  Those on the outside can also not see our beauty.  We become an oddity to them.  In the process we become more and more isolated.  We end up missing out on opportunities and friendships.  We may even miss out on love.

Yes, certainly, the chances of getting hurt are far less living ensconced behind our barricades, but so are our chances of finding happiness, friendship, love or adventure.  We become prisoners of our own fears.  In the end we might be alive, but have failed to live.  A favourite quote of mine is the one by Alfred Lord Tennyson : 
'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all."

We are almost at the end of another year.  It is time to take stock.  maybe you have suffered heartache this year, maybe you have had a difficult time the past few months?  Maybe you feel as if you want to retreat from the outside world and build a barrier between you and everyone else?  Then I urge you to listen to your heart for a moment.  You see, Fear whispers "It is dangerous", Knowledge shouts "It is foolish", but the heart begs "Give it one more chance."