Walking the Balance Beam

Balance is the word in vogue today – no matter who you are, what you do, where you live, which culture you are in, when you work, whether you are man or woman, single or married, studying or working etc. We live in a world of multiple responsibilities, tasks, opportunities and options. We want to stay, we want to work, we want to play, we want to raise a family, we want to have a career, we want to earn well, we want to accumulate assets, we want to save and we also want to spend. The biggest question is not just, how do I balance the budget (which, by the way, is a big task in itself!), but HOW DO I BALANCE LIFE per se!

Within this world, we need to live life to the fullest, not just exist. Life, in its most stable form, is full of day-to-day duties and movements with myriad facets and forms. Add to this, the changes that occur (expected and unexpected), relationships that add colour (black, white and all ones in between!), emotions that ride high or low, expectations that wax or wane and dreams that tantalize with their fulfillment or their denial. What you have is a full cup.

Now top up this full cup with the search for reality, identity, significance, worldview and a framework that interprets it all to make sense. It’s more than enough to throw a person!

So what I do with what I have been given? How do I manage the constraints that I am forced to live in? Is there a way to enjoy life? Without tearing myself apart? Or losing the essence of who I am?

Life is a circus in which I have to do tightrope or high wire act. Life is a gymnastics arena in which I have to tackle the narrow beam. How do I develop the expertise to walk to the end of it successfully?

The answer is: Learn the art and science of the balancing act.

Years ago I watched a videotape of Wayne Codeiro’s Leading on Empty: Refilling Your Tank and Renewing Your Passion. Wayne Cordeiro is the founding pastor of New Hope Oahu, one of the fastest-growing churches in the nation. Based in Honolulu, Hawaii, New Hope Oahu is known for redeeming the arts and technology for the Kingdom of God.

In it he talks of a time when he was running on empty, seriously depleted of energy, drive and passion. He talks of how he learnt the art of balancing his roles as head of his home and head of his church, finding the balance between being a father/husband and being a pastor, and making time for home and ministry.

His normal stance was to stand at the center point or midpoint between his responsibilities and hold the balance. At normal times, this position would hold and he could juggle his responsibility well. However, life is not static and so he would often be confronted with challenges and pressures such that he was hard pressed to hold this balance.

His solution for such times was: Move the fulcrum closer to the pressure point! What does this mean? It means that, during times of pressure, identify the point of pressure and gravitate towards it. That is, identify the area of extra stress and give your attention to address it. For example, if the family is going through extra burden, such as sickness at home or teenage angst, spend more time or energy there until it is resolved. Then slip back to your normal midpoint position. When some other area needs extra care, provide it and then assume your original position. Instead of 50-50 attention make it 80-20 until problem is smoothened out. This is the principle of moments in physics applied to real-life situations.

You can walk the narrow beam in life by simply strategically shifting your fulcrum. This may seem an inconvenient way to live, but it actually strengthens you. Life is no longer static or boring, but filled with kaleidoscopic colors and moves. It becomes a graceful dance of life that we often see and envy in performers.

A side benefit is that you no longer resist change nor do you prevent it. You no longer fear but welcome it. You learn that change is the spice of life and you relish it now. You are no longer jaded but enjoy the nuances of your life. Life is no longer a placid pond, but transforms into an adventure down a river of rapids.

In life you need to walk the high wire over a chasm to reach the other side. Learn the balancing act to live life to the fullest!

* Wayne Cordeiro’s video on Dead Leader Running link https://youtu.be/ScxvBqdNnf4
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A GOOD LIFE: RICHNESS & WEALTH

I was recently talking to couple of friends from another country, comparing notes about life as it is lived in our respective countries. Discussing the outlook and pursuits of people in the world today, I was explaining how education is a top priority in my nation since it helped ensure good-salary-paying jobs which in turn enabled a person to live comfortably.

A third world country with a huge population, many of our farmers are taking huge debts or selling their lands to fund their children’s studies. Their families are moving away from traditional occupations in agriculture sector in villages to jobs in the IT sector in cities. I told my friends that this was understable, as they did not want their children to suffer under the vagaries of weather, failed crops, greedy money lenders, exploitation by land owners to live in poverty as they had. They wanted to free their next generation and launch them in to a pattern of stability through financial security that ensured a life of dignity.

My friends talked about the interests and pursuits of the people in their country. They shared how for them, and for most for those in their country, wealth and richness was not about money in the bank, ownership of land or property, stocks etc. It was about time spent in pursuing their interests and being involved in helping other people.

Their idea of abundance was not the ability to buy things, but being to travel to other countries, explore their food, experience their culture etc. It was being able to work with refugees, teaching them life skills and ensuring they were equipped to live in the new country. It was the freedom to pursue their interests and the luxury to realise their passions that they considered as goals to achieve.

I was struck by the contrast of what each country considered and sought after as wealth worth pursuing and gaining. For us it’s all about how much material wealth that we have,  the quantity of what we have as cash, while theirs is about the quality of life they lead.

Ours was about the ability to buy or spend, while theirs was about the ability to experience different things. Ours was all about tangible things, while theirs was about intangible things. Ours was about acquisition of concrete things, while theirs was the accruing of exploring experiences. Ours was about saving for some distant secure future, while theirs was about enjoying the present and savoring the day-to-day life. 

Of course it is to be accepted and acknowledged that, when every day life and existence itself in question or jeopardy, it is impossible to think of adventure or experiencing. Yet I couldn’t but think that, maybe we have, in the pursuit of hard wealth, missed out on the real wealth viz. time and people, especially now at a time when our country is being touted as economically sound.

We have forgotten that the greatest treasure of all is human life and the time of existence, as when these are lost they can never be regained or restored. We have also lost out on teaching our children to decipher what is of value and what is worth saving, thrusting poverty mentality on them. We have traded real treasures for baubles and trinkets that neither have substance nor provide satisfaction. 

It’s not as though we haven’t known the art of fine and right living. A look back at our history, a look at our sculptures and monuments and a look to our music and dance are enough to point out that ours is a ‘rich and varied heritage’. We just need to pause for look at where we have lost our way and trace back to find our original milestones and markers.


We become what we value and develop the nature of that which we hanker after. So, in our greed for gold, we have like Midas lost the sight and sense of sanctity of life and the commonsense of counting the days we are squandering. We have become hard and ruthless like the cash we handle, and reckless of the minutes we lose living the present in pursuit of an utopian future that we may not live to experience, let alone enjoy!

We have given up the training of our children for the provision of comforts that may end up destroying them, now and later. We have forgotten that our future is our children and traded the spending of time-in-hand with them for the acquisition of something we may lose any time. We have, as a nation, become callous and unfeeling, wasting lives and years (witness the rampage of violence and crime against the defenceless and the weak), destroying the very future we seek to secure.


Jesus said that true wealth is that which extends beyond a lifetime and thay which can be saved in a place where it cannot be stolen or destroyed. He also said that life is not in abundance of material things nor the accruing of it, something we tend to brush aside as irrelevant.

Time lost is lost forever and life wasted is wasted forever. Time and tide waits for no man, neither does life and living. When one passes on beyond to the land of the dead, nothing is of significance except how much you have valued people and how wisely you have used time. 


Let’s wake up to what in the true sense is wealth, abundance and of value. Let’s conserve and preserve the real things that have substance and can give content as well as satisfaction. Let’s transfer the sense of what is of real worth to those who have real worth, our children and our generations!

 

*Pic courtesy http://unsplash.com/

PERSPECTIVE PERCEPTION

 

night view

For many years now I have been living in St. Thomas Mount area in Chennai, S.India. Known in modern Tamil as Parangimalai, this small hillock of about 60m (196.9 ft) above sea level, very close to the Chennai International & Domestic Airports, has been the site of the Apostle Thomas’ martyrdom and is, therefore, one of the famous tourist destinations of the city along with the Marina Beach. The top of the hill can be reached by means of 135 steps, but there is also a road that reaches around the back of the hill.

For me, climbing the hill by way of the steps has always been an anticipated thrill. When you climb the steps, you slowly rise above the city and a breathtaking panorama starts unfolding before you, bit by bit, step by step. As you climb, people, buildings, traffic, etc., shrink and reduce before your eyes. Finally, you reach the top, step on level ground, take a deep breath and swivel around to enjoy a 360-degree-view of the city. You can see miles around and glimpse the city spreading to the horizon as far as eye can reach – east to the sea (the Bay of Bengal), north to city’s port (built as an artificial harbour) and industrial area beyond, west to the suburbs and south to the airport and beyond.

From that height, much of the ugliness of the city, including its dirt disappears from sight, leaving you awed at the beauty of the view and dumbstruck at the nuances of the vista. At twilight or dusk, a blanket of darkness slowly begins to cover the city and lights begin to twinkle here and there. At nightfall, the whole city landscape looks magical with diamonds of light embedded in a background of black velvet that leaves you gasping for breath at the wonder of it all!

It is fascinating to note how familiar things look so different when seen from another vantage point, with things that seem to loom over you actually shrinking to almost nothing. A high point vision, a wide angle perspective and a panoramic view of life actually help to readjust and realign our perception of how things are or seem to be. Most often we rue our lot in life, our portion on earth and our position in time because we minimise our niceties and maximise our insecurities. All we need is just another look from another viewpoint for things to appear in the right order and right color.

Like it or not we are more like chickens, running to cower under a shelter, than like eagles that eagerly await the storm, bodies quivering with excitement and wings widespread with anticipation! A different outlook will be enough to transform us from chickens scurrying under cover to eagles confronting the storm headfirst! We need a binocular or telescopic sight rather than myopic or microscopic tunnel vision!

However much I want, I can’t stay up there, marveling at how things changed when seen from up there and I regretfully begin my descent down the hill. Once I’ve had my fill of the view, duty calls and climb down the hill, descending the same steps into the world of daily duties and cares. Just as when I went up, in the exact opposite way, the city begins to loom larger and larger, resolving itself into building, streets, people and a million other things. Finally, I am back on ground, walking into the decay and dirt of mundane life, but now armed with something to show for my time up there. The look from the hill usually fills me with an insight that restores and readjusts my vision as well as my outlook of ordinary tasks. A different perspective had birthed a different perception as well as hope!

We don’t get to stay there on that high point or at a different vantage point. We go there to get a whiff of fresh air, a breath of newness and a look at the end of the horizon. We go there so that observation of the vista helps readjust our sights and restore 20/20 vision so we can better handle the commonalities of affairs of life. We come back. not only with healed perception, but also with a hidden gift  as the poet of The Daffodils declares:

 … I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils (or the hills!).
(William Wordsworth (1815) )
*Photo courtesy of the internet

A SENSE OF MISSION

Another insight from the ranks of the military.

I was teaching and discussing the difference between work-life and lifework in the small group I lead and facilitate. We were concentrating on the need for and the lack of a strong work culture and ethic among Christians today. Not so long ago, Christians had the reputation of being good, dependable, committed workers and were the surest bet among a number of potentially eligible candidates for a post. Sadly, this not completely true today and the work world is often disgusted with the unprofessional and slipshod work of those who bear the name of Christ. We were analyzing and exploring the causes and reasons for it.

An army friend, a member of the group, spoke up and shared the following about the attitude of work inculcated in the army.

He said that if you were to motor down the lonely roads of Leh, Ladakh and other border areas, you would often find a single soldier at his post by the road, holding his flag and rifle in readiness. There wouldn’t be soul for miles around and yet he would just stand there in readiness. He wouldn’t bother to see if someone was watching him or checking on him to see if he was fine or even monitoring whether he really did his work well. He would just do what was expected of him, viz. keep watch, irrespective of the weather, lack of company or need of any thing that is normally demanded!

This, he said, was typical of any soldier in the army, irrespective of their charge. They are impacted with a sense of mission. The soldier is taught that because he stood at his post, alone on that lonely road, people back home slept in peace. His faithful watch ensured the rest and contented tranquility of his countrymen. His fearless holding of the ground caused the women and children of the nation to live in quiet confidence. It was his alert vigilance on that lonely road enabled the nation function effectively and carry on its business as usual. As he shouldered his assignment in perfect willingness, his land participated without hindrance in the day-to-day affairs of the world it was part of. It was this sense of the importance of one’s task, whatever be be the rank and post, that helped the army maintain discipline and order among its men or women.

What a lesson to learn, I thought to myself, as we seek to live as Christians in this world! One of the greatest way by which Christians can develop a good work ethic and culture today is to have a sense of mission and a grasp of the big picture we/they are part of. We are often so caught up with the mundane daily tasks of general living, that we tend lose focus. We feel hopeless, helpless, hapless and often just endure but not enjoy life. We need to see ourselves the way He sees us, as co-labourers and partners together with Him in the smooth functioning of His world, the accomplishing of His will and the ushering in of His Kingdom on earth.

Once we grasp this, our outlook on and of life will change drastically and dramatically. Once we understand deep in our heart that we are really after all about His business, irrespective of our station in life, we will face each day with excitement and confront each problem with zest. Once we realize every work we do, irrespective of how small or big it is, as long as it is intrinsically good in itself, contributes to His working on this earth, we will be transformed and rejuvenated, daily! Once we catch this sense of mission, we will work with a sense of purpose, a sense of direction and a sense of worth!

We must know, understand and be convinced that, however small or big, high or low, narrow or wide our portion in life is, every task, work, role, ministry we do contributes to the making up a whole. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you do, where you are placed in life, but it matters how you live and do everything in life.

Our work and life ethic as Christians must needs be representative of our King and His Kingdom. We cannot ape or copy the standards currently prevailing in an IT sector or a government institution or a corporate company or even a religious Christian organization. Our values must be calibrated to the Biblical principles and Kingdom values.

A sense of mission, like that of a soldier, is a key to developing a fittingly appropriate and fascinatingly intriguing ethic that will ensure life here and now is wonderfully exciting. After all, we are enjoined by the eminent Apostle Paul to be faithful and diligent as soldiers (II Tim 2:3-4)!

© SABINA TAGORE IMMANUEL
*Photo courtesy http://www.indiamike.com/india-images/pictures/lonely-soldier-manali-leh-road-near-pang and https://disciplesofhope.files.wordpress.com/2015/04/mission.jpg

BEST FOR THE LAST

wedding table.jpgThe ways of God and the values of His Kingdom are so diametrically opposite to the ways of men in this world in this age. They are extremely puzzling and incomprehensible to this world. They seem to be mindless and impractical, a true enigma to those who have achieved much with their mathematically precise calculations.

Take, for example, the matter of water-changed-into-wine in the wedding reception in Cana of Galilee. In itself the production of wine from water in the time interval between the pouring of it into the vessel and the pouring out a sample of it for the event manager who declares it as wine, is stupendous. Add to it that it was better than the first served one, by a person who is clueless as to its origin. Top it up with the fact that the best wine is normally served first and the inferior one later usually when guests are too intoxicated to discern the change. What do you have – a total unconventional happening that shatters human concepts and experience. You learn that God’s ways are very different from our carefully planned and well-executed machinations!

Consider another incident, that of 5 loaves and 2 fishes being stretched and multiplied to fit a crowd of not less than 15k people (men alone 5k, so assuming 1 woman per guy and adding 1 child per). Compare it with a similar one in another place and time wherein 7k people were fed with 7 loaves and few fishes. What do you have but a mathematic puzzle have of how a lesser number can feed a larger number and vice versa. It doesn’t add up and that’s the miraculous beauty of God’s ways and means – that He cannot be confined or limited. After all, if He created it all, including the natural laws, doesn’t it make sense that He can transcend them if He wants to!

Or let’s ponder the fact of the deep sea fishing incident. Jesus instructs veteran fishermen, experts in their field of work and arena of operation, the Sea of Galilee, to fish in broad daylight when they have had total loss in their prime workplace timing. No wonder that Peter fell to his knees and declared Jesus Lord of all when he garnered in the best catch of his life, a catch that needed help from colleagues and friends to haul all in. Wonder if these latter were standing around watching and waiting to ridicule Peter’s mistake in following the advice of an unqualified consultant and were astonished at the result!

As illustrated and explained in the Bible, that’s how God thinks and works His will, demonstrating the immense and immutable omnipotence of Who He is! He cannot be fathomed or analysed for He is infinite and we are finite beings in finite time setting in finite physical framework. He cannot be understood for He is outside time, inhabiting and in control of eternity past and eternity future. He cannot be seen or touched or felt for He is Spirit who has chosen to interact with concrete confined and limited beings and world. He can only be acknowledged, accepted and paid allegiance to, not by sight or feeling or thinking but by faith.

If God Himself is so, how much more different, unintelligible & indecipherable will His thoughts and ways be. As pointed out in the Bible, God thinks very differently from us and works very dis-similarly from the way we do. The only way to understand Him is to flow in His Spirit for as it says in I Cor 2: 10-16 “The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for, “Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

I have seen this happen over and over again in my life. When I think something is impossible based on circumstances or when my well-thought out planning fails. I find that He is not limited by my scant resources nor boxed in by expectations. All I can do is follow and flow in His Spirit, trusting His supreme love that works all things together only for my good.

Bottom line is: God is Sovereign and He will do all that He purposes to do at all times, while at the same time not trampling over the sovereignty of my freewill and the ensuing choices. God often works contrariwise to human intentions and human manipulations!

In the words of the coordinator of the wedding feast to the man of the hour, the bridegroom, in the first incident I mentioned above (John 2:1-10) “EVERYONE brings out the choice wine FIRST and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but YOU have saved the BEST till now.

*Written in time of discussion of the wedding preparations of a mentee!

E’EN THOUGH IT BE A CROSS!

NEARERMYGOD

Seated in a church, I watched as the earthly remains of my friend’s husband was brought in. I scanned her face, looking past her composed demeanor to her aching heart, sensing the vacuum left there by the loss of her companion of many years. I bowed my head in sorrow, as the Pastor prayed the opening prayer, crying out to the One who created her and joined them together to be one flesh.

The pastor announced the opening song number and we stood to sing that timeless hymn by Sarah F. Adams. As the organ led, the violin accompanied and we sang the song of comfort, the first few lines caught my attention:

Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee!
E’en though it be a cross that raiseth me,
Still all my song shall be, nearer, my God, to Thee.
Refrain:
Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee!

My heart, heavy with sympathy for my friend, thrummed and resonated with the line “E’en though it be a cross and woke to realization.

Yes, indeed, I thought to myself, its a CROSS that lifts me. Though it seems quite strange and paradoxical too, the crux of the Christian faith and life, is not a crown but a cross that raises!

The cross stands at the heart of the Christian belief, the epitome of its essence and the embodiment of its existence. The cross stands at the crossroads of time, dividing it into two eras – Before and After it. It rings the death knell of man’s efforts to reach God and the morning bells of God’s triumph in reaching out to him. It signals the culmination of mankind’s bondage to sin, sickness & satan and the dawn of liberation to new life, purpose and future for all human beings, eternally!

Its astonishing to note that the symbol of the worst ignominy in the then cultured Roman world of conquest has today become the insignia of the greatest victory on earth and in heaven. The cross it is that signifies the end of man’s alienation from God and the beginning of renewed relationship with Him as His beloved sons and daughters. Therefore, in the words of Apostle Paul, that in spite of the fact that the it is both a stumbling block to the religious and a wonder to the ingenuous, the cross is strength and salvation to all who are called by Him!

The cross is an incongruity, being both a defense and an offense – defense of mankind’s salvation and eternal life and offense again sin & worldliness. It is both the means of God’s grace and mode of God’s judgement – God’s judgement meant that Jesus had to be crucified and because Jesus paid the price of God’s judgement, those who believe in Him become the beneficiaries of God’s grace!

Pastor Timothy Keller, American theologian and apologist, recent tweet rightly points out, “Unless you point to the good news of God’s grace people will not be able to bear the bad news of God’s judgement”. The cross, associated as it is with pain, torture, judgement, punishment, death etc., is actually the means of gain, comfort, absolution, liberation and life to all those that follow the One Who died on it in weakness but rose again in victory and power!

This is then is the message of hope and succor for my friend: Even though she has the cross of loneliness and singleness to bear at this point in her life, yet it is that same cross that is providing and will provide her comfort and solace in that it has provided for and ensured abundant life her loved one. Indeed, this will be her source of strength, enabling her to live her life of triumphant assurance and joy!

© Sabina Tagore Immanuel

MARRIAGE MATTERS

Marriages are made in heaven is an English proverb probably derived from a French proverb from the early sixteenth century. This proverb states ‘les mariages se font au ciel’: ‘marriages are made in heaven‘. A more appropriate one would be ‘Marriages are made in heaven but lived on earth’. An even more realistic one would be ‘marriages are made in heaven but lived in hell‘!

The first implies a spiritual element to marriages in that, God is part of this institution and so is love. This aspect elevates the status of marriage as important and the stature of it as preeminent over all other relationships.

The second accepts that, though marriage has a ‘divine element to it’ and that ‘marriage goes beyond human love to include spiritual love as well“, it still needs human involvement, commitment, responsibility, nurture and forbearance to succeed. Marriage is hard work that needs consistency and a continuum more than anything else to make it work. It is prosaic, down-to-earth, practical day-to-day life, of night and day, light and dark, dawn and twilight, and therefore, it surely cannot be the indulgence of the fainthearted but the venture of the truly brave!

The third is relevant to these times and often the truth, for though marriage has divine and earthly elements in it, yet it indeed has a hellish part to it. 

Why hellish? Simply because the enemy of souls is out to destroy it. All the forces of evil muster themselves against it, for God instituted it, God honors it as above all else and God upholds it as the essence of His relationship with His people.

Why hellish? Simply because it seems to arouse all of our selfish nature within us. A pastor once said, ‘You want to serve God, be single. You want to be like Jesus, get married’! Marriage, more than any other relationship, seems to arouse and expose the worst in us since it is the closest, most intimate and most vulnerable relationship of all. It needs the help and nature of God to survive!

Why hellish? Simply because marriages are the backbone of society and  are its basic social unit. Hence, marriages are fraught with duties and burdens that tax it to the core. It is the homeground of training and rearing of next generation, the succour and shelter of the previous generation and the epitome and embodiment of the current generation!

Compounded with all this is the cultural confusion that exists in its definition today, compounded as it were by the tenets of feminism, male chauvinism, patristic domination, individualism, same-sex relationship and selfish ambition. All these have muddied the marriage milieu, muddled already by family, regional practices and traditions. In addition, the current social and work environments seem so unconducive to marriage per se. All in all, marriage scenario seems to be on the rock, needing special protection, provision and preservation.

Marriage is indeed a work of art, a thing of beauty and a joy forever. It has the challenge of mountain tops and the beauty of quiet valleys, the glories of sunrise and the depths of sunset, the exquisite joy of companionship and the tragic sadness of loss. It has its origin not in the heart, mind and plans of man, but of God Himself. He it is Who conceived it, contracted it & consecrated it. As such, inspite of its pitfalls, it still is worth its wait in time!