I’m still an extrovert – the immutable truths of energy source

It’s been said, mostly by me, that I put the ‘extra’ in extrovert.

Extroversion and introversion are descriptors of energy source and direction. A simple analogy is that extroverts are solar powered and introverts are battery powered. That is, extroverts source their energy externally – from the social and relational stimulation of others. Introverts source and direct their energy more internally. They are recharged by being in more quiet, low-stimulus environments – most preferably alone.

The categorisations of extroversion vs introversion were a helpful discovery for me as I moved into my young adult years. They were informative as I sought a greater depth of self-awareness and understanding, and have proved extremely useful in life and leadership as I’ve worked alongside others. Knowing which you are is essential for your self-management and well being. Consistently operating outside of your natural disposition will see you depleted and ultimately dysfunctional – emotionally, physically and relationally.

It’s a function of adulting and maturing and participating in the world that we learn to manage our natural disposition with the demands and realities of life. Emotionally intelligent introverts realise that they need to be with at least some people for some of the time – family, colleagues, strangers at the supermarket. That we are built for relationship and cooperation. That the company of others and what they bring to our lives is essential for growth and flourishing. That part of exercising our humanity finds its expression in serving and contributing to the lives of others. Emotionally intelligent extroverts realise that being comfortable in one’s own company is an essential part of growth and self-acceptance. That the practices of solitude and silence are useful for reflection and mindfulness. That social stimulation is no replacement for physical rest which is necessary for revitalisation and renewal.

However, any amount of adaptation and intentionality will not override the fundamental truth of where a person’s energy is sourced. We don’t “grow out” of extroversion or introversion. We just find ways to manage our needs in less preferred environments.

Case study – me.

I am a raging extrovert! I am energised by human interaction. The more energised the interaction the more energised I am! While I don’t mind larger, anonymous groups, I’m more fuelled by social interactions that are personal, robustly engaging, stimulating and soul nourishing.

A friend once compared me to her peace lily. The peace lily is a plant and you know when to water one because its leaves start to droop and curl. Give her a drink and her stems will straighten up and leaves unfurl – almost before your eyes. That’s what I’m like with human interaction. People who know me well can tell from 20 paces when I’ve been on my own – my leaves are droopy! Instead of exuding energy and effervescence I radiate ‘flatness’ – like I’ve pulled a few all-nighters in a row! Friends also know that with even the smallest spritzes of the life-giving water of positive human interaction I will come to life before your eyes. You will feel like a magician for the radical turnaround you were able to conjure with just your words and presence!

As someone who has lived much of my adult life alone, sourcing the requisite people interactions to fuel me has always been challenging. Extroversion energy (like introversion energy) doesn’t store well. It requires constant replenishing – which requires constant social exchanges. A large pool of people resource is required in order to account for the number of introverts who will be needing less people time and also the reality that other people have their own lives and calendars to manage.

As a younger person, this drive for externally sourced energy masked as some sort of social animal who couldn’t sit still, stay home or miss out. Over the years, as I learned and understood more, I recognised that physically my body needed rest, stillness, sleep and down time. I’ve grown to appreciate the slow and relaxed – and even the quiet. But these things do not energise me. The reality of energy sourcing is that while my body and mind might benefit from alone time, I am emotionally deenergised by it. It’s a truth that can’t be outgrown or outmanaged.

Navigating this extended season of lockdowns and isolation, working from home, travel restrictions and all manner of limitations has been hard for everyone for a range of reasons. As an extrovert, the reduction of opportunities for live social interactions has been life-draining! While the utilisation of online communication platforms has been a life-saver, there are times when I still can go multiple days without speaking to an in real life adult person.

As I’ve repeatedly bumped into the worst parts of myself – impatience, intolerance, lack of motivation and discipline, reduced creativity and productivity, loneliness, aimlessness and even depression – I found myself increasingly unable to straighten up; to self-correct. “I can do better than this, what am I not doing better than this?” And while myself and others made passing reference to the fact that my current lifestyle and experience wasn’t conducive to extroversion, this was my reality, these were the tools I had, there has to be a way!

So, here’s my revelation and ever deepening conviction – there is no ‘cure’ for extroversion. There’s no sustainable work around. There’s not enough duct tape and stick-to-itiveness to hold it all together before some sort of external assistance is required. This is energy-source facts. It is what it is.

In some ways, this news was deeply disappointing. I guess I was hopeful to discover an alternate energy source that could be self-generated and subsequently self-replenishing. It would be simpler for me if connection to other humans was more optional than essential. The depth of my reliance on other people makes me intensely vulnerable. I need others, most likely disproportionately to how much they need me. (Read more here your single friends need you (probably more than you need them))

Conversely, the discovery was strangely freeing. It gives me permission to feel the lack and grieve it. This is not a deficiency but a reality. It reminds me to tread lightly in my own life in terms of expectations and demands when I’m operating out of a depleted tank. It may helps others around me recognise the valuable offering they can make to my well-being. It doesn’t excuse the times I show up in disappointing ways but it possibly explains some of it. It turns certain behaviours or feelings into the trigger to more intentionally seek out the company and energising of others.

EXTROVERTS – what do YOU think? How does your extroversion play out in your life?

INTROVERTS – does this ring true on the other end of the spectrum? Does identifying the source of your energy help diagnose and manage your own life experience?

bridges, wineskin and armour (images of an unknown future)

In my previous blog, THE RIVER HAS MOVED, we saw the profound image of the Choluteca Bridge in Honduras. When Hurricane Mitch came through the area in 1998, the resultant flooding washed away the roads to the bridge and, when the waters receded, the Choluteca river had changed its course. It no longer flowed under the bridge rather had charted a new path alongside it. The bridge was left structurally sound but with no function. It didn’t bridge anything anymore.

As we find ourselves in the emerging stages of life after (and with) Covid, the Choluteca Bridge can serve as a metaphor for what many of us might be facing. The river has moved. Things have changed. Not everything is where we left it back at the start of 2020 when we found ourselves rapidly responding to the impacts on our work, family, communities, ministries and organisations as the pandemic swept the globe.

My writing ended with two questions

  1. How has the ‘river moved’ in your life, family, organisation, work, or ministry?
  2. What might you need to do differently as a result?

In this blog I want to offer two further metaphors or imagery as we consider our response to these questions.

NEW WINESKINS

In Mark 2:22, Jesus says shares this metaphor “No one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.”

Historically, wineskins were made from the hide of an animal, such as a goat. Partially fermented wine was stored in them. As the fermentation process continued it would produce gas that expanded the wineskin and stretched it. After the wine was consumed, to try and repeat this process using the same wineskin would be impossible as the hide was not elastic enough to stretch a second time. Instead, the fermentation process would likely split or pop the wineskin.

There are many ways this metaphor can apply to our lives – Biblical scholars often speak of the need to create new structures and new institutions, to not be rigid in holding to patterns and processes of the past but to be flexible, adaptable and stretch-able like new wineskins. But we must also acknowledge the challenge that Jesus was bringing not just to structures and systems but to us! To people’s hearts and minds. That we would submit ourselves to be new vessels for God’s mission and work. That we would be positioned ready to sustain future growth and change, elastic enough to allow for His Spirit to stretch and shape and mould us.

UNDERSTANDING THE TIMES

The Biblical story of David and Goliath is well-known. The Israelites, under King Saul, were in a battle with the neighbouring Philistine army which has been going for about 40 days and was at a bit of a standstill. The Philistines had a giant on their side (like, a literal giant who was over 9 feet tall!) and he was big, loud, strong and scary! He could lift more in a single battle weapon than most of the Israelite army guys weighed! He had been taunting and intimidating the Israelites to come and fight him. The prize was that the winner would have the entire losing nation as their servants. The Israelites were so scared they were going to lose and the people of God would go into servitude that they didn’t even send anyone to try and fight him.

David is a young boy who comes to the battle line to bring food for his older brothers. He’s not a soldier. He hears Goliath mocking and ridiculing the Israelites and he’s wondering why the people of God are so afraid. “I can do this! God has rescued and protected me in the past – he can surely equip me to beat this guy!” (You’ve gotta believe the Israelites were feeling slightly mocked and taunted from within at this point! The teenage boy, David, had more faith than all of them put together!)

King Saul approves David going to fight Goliath and the Biblical account tells us that “Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armour on him and a bronze helmet on his head. David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them. “I cannot go in these,” he said to Saul, “because I am not used to them.” So, he took them off.” (1 Sam 17:38-39

The picture here is of a still-developing young boy with an ill-fitting armour. Perhaps the helmet wobbled on his head and fell in his eyes and the breastplate reached to below his knees. They would have been weighty and cumbersome. Not what he was used to wearing out in the field as a shepherd, and not something he felt comfortable to wear to battle.

Physically and metaphorically, Saul’s armour was the old while David is a picture of the new. David was a new kind of warrior preparing for a different kind of battle. We know that in the end David took Goliath out with a well-executed swing of his sling shot – hitting Goliath between the eyes – the only unprotected part of his body. Felling him and allowing David to come close enough to execute him with his own sword (with the fairly gruesome detail of chopping his head off that is usually rushed over in the kids books and definitely not included in the illustrations!).

If God is doing a new thing, if we are looking to new frontiers, to different parameters of war, to a whole different battle ground – the old armour might not do the job.

As we look ahead to 2022 and beyond, we need to consider a whole new way of facing what lies before us. What has changed? How have dynamics altered? What new strategies and ways of thinking does it require of us? Might the old armour not only not serve purpose (after all, David didn’t need to protect himself from anything, did he?) but might it actually impede future progress? I can’t imagine David’s rock slinging might have been so on target if his helmet was slipping from his head and the heavy tunic was restricting the movement of his arms.

In 1 Chronicles 12, we see an older David who is king-in-waiting while the wheels are starting to fall off Saul’s Kingship. A band of men begin to assemble around David. All sorts of groups offering various battle equipment and fighting skills. Then, in verse 32, there were 200 chiefs from Issachar. The description of their contribution is that “they understood the times and they knew what Israel should do”.

As important as any tactical or practical offering is the ability to see what’s happening and respond accordingly. To know the lay of the land. Who is the opposition, what are our assets, what’s the goal, what’s the best strategy, what’s changed, what’s required, who is best, how is best, when is best?

QUESTIONS

And so we add to our previous question as we consider what we might need to do differently as a result of the changes that have taken place around us.

  1. What are we doing to allow God to renew and refresh us to be receptacles of the new wine, the new thing that He might want to do in and through us?
  2. Do you understand the times? Have you taken inventory to really know the new lay of the land so as to know what to do in response?

I’m ok – but being ok is exhausting

“Are you ok?”

Well, yes, I am. I guess.

In many ways, I’m better than ok. I have my health – not just for right now, but I’m also not in a high risk or vulnerable category that would make that uncertain or a source of fear. I have a beautiful home – if I was going to be ‘locked down’ anywhere, this is a pretty sweet locale for it! I have secure work – not just because I keep getting paid each month, but because the organisation I work with has incredibly supportive and sensitive leadership and colleagues. I am well-resourced and appreciated.

There are lots of other things that make me ok. The Victorian winter has been decidedly un-wintery … lots of days of beautiful sunshine and bright blue skies where too many grey skies and shut in days might have made the heart more cloudy and gloomy too. The internet! Let’s pause for a reverend moment of acknowledgement for the gift of the world wide web to us in these times! It brings the people into my home, allows me to be present where I’d otherwise miss out, and it delivers all these fabulous packages to my home (side note – who pays for the internet shopping bills? Just checking.).

So, I think I’m ok, thanks for asking.

But being ok is so exhausting.

Holding my okayness requires so much of me, it feels like another full time job. Above all the adult-ing and general life stuff there’s an extra portion of energy required to ‘be ok’.

Living on my own has always had its considerations when it comes to boundaries and routines. Bed times, home times, meal times, play times have no element of external imposition. And the challenges for me as an extrovert living alone have been well-documented. Our current circumstances have magnified and multiplied these things. Decision fatigue is real, and the self-motivation & self-discipline demands are next level. Add to that the pervasive uncertainty, the rapid change, the empathetic grief and loss, and also some personal disappointment and hurt.

And all the while, the usual avenues for emotional energy top-ups have been altered or completely closed off. I have gone multiple days without seeing a live human being! Instead of joining a congregation for worship and ministry I record a message to a camera in my lounge room and send a link. My Physio appointment last week was the only time I’ve had permitted physical contact with another person in … well, too long! I am missing opportunities to celebrate friends or gather with family.

So, I’m weary.

It is what it is. And it could be far worse. I’m so grateful for so many provisions and blessings in this season. I’m really ok. I am. But acknowledging the reality of the extra energy expenditure releases me to be ok with the moments it feels a bit too much. It permits me to be gentle with (and even more generous to) myself.

It also raises my consciousness of the unique struggles others are dealing with and prompts me to grace when that pressure leaks out for them in fear, complaining or even aggression.

Being ok takes more effort right now. Which might be why some people are not. And might explain some of the fatigue for those who are.

isolation and living alone

There are only so many times a living-alone-Single-extrovert can hear the words ‘isolation’, ‘social distance’ and ‘cancelled’ before the weight becomes a little too much to carry and it has to leak out of my eyes! Yesterday I had a significant ‘moment’ (think tears, snot, a few little hiccup-y gulps and one or two audible groans!).

Last month I shared a post how long ‘til the realise I’m dead? and it seemed to resonate. Single people commented repeatedly “This is exactly how I feel!” and married responses repeated the sentiment “I’ve never even thought about this before.”

The same people who worry about not being discovered to have died are bound to be experiencing an additional layer of anxiety in the face of these shut downs and measures of separation to responsibly manage the movement of COVID19 and it’s impact on our health care system and to protect our most vulnerable.

CHECK ON THEM!

Social media is being flooded with posts from Introverts saying this is their idea of heaven. From what I understand, the cancellation of social events and being ‘forced’ to stay at home are the stuff their dreams are made of! 🙂 HOWEVER, even the most introverted of introverts could acknowledge that, as much as they love being alone and are personally energised by that time to recharge, there’s also the reality that without the interruption of exchange with others there can be an un-health that shapes their thought life. As much as they can do without social interactions, the circuit breaker of other people’s engagement in their thought processes and internal dialogue is a healthy and necessary thing.

CHECK ON THEM!

As organisations (like mine!) move to working from home (can we just pause for a praise break that we live in such technologically advanced times – so many opportunities to stay working and connected through online platforms!) while this is a fantastic provision – it’s also a socially isolating move. Many living-alone-Singles rely on the accountability and regular interactions of work life and will struggle without it. As churches move to streaming their services, be reminded that it’s not just the sermon or worship our congregations will be missing (in fact, these things have been out-source-able for a long time now) it’s the connection to one another, a sense of engagement in something bigger than themselves, the opportunity to keep regular relational accounts with one another – to give and receive prayer and encouragement.  (My church has set up an online/phone prayer service to facilitate this – what a great initiative!)

CHECK ON THEM!

For those of us living alone who have the love language of physical touch – this experience has another layer of impact. The social distancing protocols don’t apply within your households. You might sleep closer than 1.5m to your spouse. Go ahead and TRY convincing young children not to invade your (or each other’s) personal space – that’s not happening! So, even in a time of physical disconnection you’re experiencing some connection. In my regular life I can go days without physical touch and now, it’s mandated! In my little ‘moment’ yesterday, this was part of my processing … how long do I have to go without any physical connection?

CHECK ON THEM!

I messaged my friends – the ‘her is ours now’ family referenced in this blog being family to those without family – and shared about my little meltdown and said “I decided you could adopt me, then if we need to isolate I’ll isolate with my ‘family’”. The response was, essentially, an affirmation that they thought I already WAS adopted, and that if we get shut in as family-units then my place of shut in is with them! “If ‘Her is ours now’ then ‘her corona is our corona now’ too!”

Of course, we’re prayerful that the measures our country are employing now might avoid a complete lock-down. Things are changing daily as we continue to track the spread and learn what we can from other countries (another praise break – how grateful are we for all the fabulously smart and compassionate people in our medical system?!) and there’s no real point in leaping ahead to worst case scenarios. Being sensible and caring in this moment is our best next step. If I came to know I was infected I would never intentionally expose them to the virus.

But, I can’t tell you the relief that came to me in my emotionally charged episode, to have my friends make it clear that I won’t have to be alone. It was such a circuit breaker for my fear, loneliness, overwhelm and distress. There’s a plan, an option.

CHECK ON YOUR LIVING ALONE FRIENDS.

If only to give them a safe place to process the emotions they might be feeling. Each of us will travel an experience like this differently as it’s shaped by our lifestage, personality, health status and other factors. Let’s do what we can to grow in our understanding and empathy for one another.

your single friends need you (probably more than you need them)

A few years ago I was sitting with my housemate and we both got a text message from a married friend. She was letting us know that she’d had some medical issues arise. There’d been some preliminary testing that was either worrisome or inconclusive enough to warrant further investigations. So she was going to have more tests done and was asking for us to be prayerful.

My friend and I both thought to respond in the same way and I sent a message back including “I hope you have some friends journeying this with you”. We later discovered that this was considered to be a strange kind of response. There she was informing us as her friends and inviting us to be part of the process – why were we questioning whether she was including her friends? Ultimately as a married person the need to contact friends was triggered far later in the process than it might have been for a Single person. A Single person who is experiencing negative health symptoms would probably contact a friend straight away. A Single person would seek the opinion of a friend or family member to know if they should go and get that checked out. A Single person might let a friend know that they’re going to a doctors appointment and perhaps even invite them to come along. So by the time further testing was required a Single person may have included their friend/s a lot more in the process. The reality is that for the married friend she had been processing all that with her husband up until that point.

Single people can have different expectations and requirements of friendship.

For a Single person, their friends are the entirety of their network of advice giving, problem-solving and listening. For those who are married and in a family environment a friend serves a different purpose. If circles of trust were to be drawn a spouse might find themselves at the very core and then friends at varying stages of distance in the widening concentric circles. For a Single person without a spouse at that core, often friends are drawn into a place of higher trust, of higher reliance; of higher connectedness.

What this creates is a potential power and need imbalance in friendships. Where the Single person requires more of you than you require of them. Where your name would be listed closer to their inner circle than their name would to yours. A friend of mine recently recounted a revelation she’d had of this when her Single friend asked her to come around to look at her new flooring. She thought it was an odd request until she connected with the fact that she would have had numerous interactions with her husband over new flooring and not felt the need to tell others – whereas her Single friend might not have had any engagement about her floors with anyone else. Perhaps a trivial example, but a helpful illustration of the different experiences.

This plays itself out in many ways, including socially. Where a planned social gathering might be additional to your weekly social calendars and fuller household, it can be the entirety of a Single person’s social connectedness. Where a cancelled dinner or a lack of invitation might result in you having a more quiet night at home, for a Single that could equate to being completely alone.

My friend Nancy and I talked about this recently as we sat across from one another at dinner. I made the observation that I needed that interaction more than she did. She’s married and is also a mum and as we talked some more she reflected, “I don’t think I had ever really considered how much my relational tank is filled incidentally and how that shapes how many friends I need, what I need from them, and the time and space I have to give them.”

What that means is that a Single person needs to maintain a lot of relationships to ensure their input and output are sufficient to experience the human connection we are built for. Even for me, as a highly extroverted and socially and relationally competent person, that can be EXHAUSTING! There’s a lot to balance to ensure that there are enough of those once a week, once every fortnight, monthly catch up types of relationships to spread across the day to day of life in order to keep the relational tank at a healthy level. That need makes us vulnerable. There’s great risk attached to this reality that we probably need you more than you need us.

Singles, identify and own this reality. You need others. It’s risky. It’s exhausting. It takes intentionality and purpose but you can create the kinds of relationships that will allow you to give and receive the love, belonging, serving, fulfilment, purpose and joy that you need.

And for you non-Singles, maybe you could do a self-audit like my champion friend Nancy, to recognise the level of relational filling you operate out of before leaving your house or making any extra effort. It might increase your sensitivity to the needs of the Singles in your world and grow your understanding of the neediness they experience and the risk they take to stay relationally engaged.

talking about divorce

“The reason there are so many divorces is that we live in a throw away society and no one is willing to work to fix things.”

You’ve no doubt heard a version of this statement before, or possibly even repeated something like it yourself. It is often followed up with comments that start with “in my day” or “I was raised to believe that …”

Yes, the statistics on divorce are alarming at worst, disappointing at best. But not just because they seem to increase or because they might reflect a shift in attitude to marriage (or any other cultural trend that we might point to) but because each of those numbers represents two broken people, maybe a broken family and a whole lot of implications for those in the sphere of this couple … forever!

Divorce is devastating. Divorce is sad. Divorce is taking a ‘one’ that has been created by the union of two and tearing it in half. God says He HATES divorce (Malachi 2 :16) and I can totally understand why. It’s messy, it’s hurtful and its consequences are far reaching. I know this from my own experience – both as a child of divorced parents and as a divorcee myself. 

It doesn’t matter how bad a marriage was, a divorce is never good.

Our language matters.

We need to be more careful in how we talk about divorce – because, again, we’re talking about people. Not just a social trend or statistic. People. On the end of every one of our generalisations is a person who has been impacted by divorce in ways that flippant language not only fails to consider but may also compound. As I move around I hear so many stories of people being unnecessarily wounded by the careless words of others and see the easy traps people fall in when speaking about divorce. Our language matters.

No one gets married intending to be divorced.

No one.

Even people who don’t do anything to make their marriage work aren’t expecting that it won’t! Anyone who finds themselves divorced, even if it was them who initiated and actioned it, is living a different future than they expected. It might be better (safer, healthier, necessary) to not be in the marriage anymore but it still isn’t anyone’s goal to be divorced.

Divorce isn’t the easy way out.

Even when the pathway to divorce is clear – an abusive partner, an unfaithful spouse, untenable circumstances – divorce is not an easy option.

It is practically taxing. Division of assets, closing and opening bank accounts, relocating (for one or both), potential custody considerations and all manner of things required to detach and then re-establish independently and recover financially. It’s emotionally devastating. Even the most amicable of separations are founded on a level of relational fracturing that carries all sorts of implications for a sense of self and one’s view of the world – a life story is forever altered. 

It may seem easier than staying. It might seem like a cop out. But it carries its own consequences and challenges that can’t be underestimated (by those considering it or those journeying through it with others).

“We just never gave up” only works if it’s truly ‘we’.

Often, when asked the secret to a long marriage people respond “We just never gave up”. Which is undoubtedly true. Sticktoitiveness is one of the essential ingredients to longevity in anything. But it’s important to emphasise the ‘we’ in that statement. It requires BOTH people to have not given up.

The old adage applies that if only one is paddling in a two person canoe it will just go around in circles. Some divorced individuals never gave up. Some fought harder to compensate for another who didn’t fight. In the end one can’t be married alone.

A high value of marriage should be second to a high value of people.

Many people stay (or are counselled to stay) in abusive or destructive relationships because of the emphasis placed on the value or sacredness of marriage. Well might we benefit from a greater honouring of and investment in marriage – your own or those of family, friends or church community around you. Let us be champions of marriage – encouraging and supporting in anyway we can. But let that never be at the expense of the emotional or physical safety of the people in it.

Our language matters.

How you speak about divorce – in public forums (the platform at church, social media or other communications) or in casual conversations – matters to those impacted by divorce. Let’s be mindful to consider the people the statistics are referencing when we make observation of cultural trends or shift. Let’s be champions of people and places where healing and support can be sought and experienced rather than (perhaps inadvertently) communicating judgement or exclusion to people already navigating a difficult life experience.

there’s prosperity but not as you know it

It’s a well-known, well-loved, oft-quoted and oft-shared verse.

Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

In 2018, Biblegateway reported it as the most read Bible verse on its website.

It’s a personal favourite of mine. I’ve preached it, posted it, prayed it and even painted it for a friend.

However, it also pops up in the lists of the most misused or misinterpreted verses of scripture. And it’s this abuse, and potentially its perceived overuse, that has many listing it as one of their least favourite verses!

Who was it written for?

Jeremiah delivered this prophetic message from God to His people, the Israelites, as they came to the end of around 70 years of captivity in Babylon. They were a broken down and scattered people. Their knowledge of God’s love and goodness towards them would often not have seemed supported by their current circumstances. And so this promise of hope, prosperity and a future beyond their present experience would’ve been so desperately needed.

How generous of God to direct Jeremiah to remind them – “I see you, I have not forsaken you, your future is in my hands and it’s better than you can perceive or imagine, I’ve got this.”

Any message to the Israelites is a message for us too.

Yes, this is a contextually specific word for then, them and there – but when God spoke historically to the Israelites it was part of the picture He was painting of His heart for His people. His plans and purposes. His generosity and grace.

It’s true for us today. His heart is for us. He desires that we would experience His truth and be filled with hope for the future that He has gone ahead of us to see and prepare. Ultimately, this scripture says more about who God is than anything else. He is the same today as He was then.

Who is defining prosperity?

The misappropriation of this verse lies largely in the definition of prosperity. By today’s dictionaries we understand it to mean “success in material terms” or “financial flourishing”. The Hebrew word used here is shalowm – which is more about safety, welfare, happiness and peace. In fact, in the majority of uses of this word in the Old Testament it is translated as peace or wellbeing.

The former definition suggests promises of the dream home, dream car and dream bank account. The latter indicates a more holistic picture of a preferred future – where God ordained peace and wellness is your experience.

For many readers, that’s a significant shift in focus and expectation.

God’s plan for our welfare might look different than our own.

God’s plans for our future are to prosper. He said it Himself and it aligns completely with His character and activity towards us. His heart is for our wellbeing, happiness and deepest sense of peace. Shalowm.

What I’ve come to understand in a limited form, and what scripture and hundreds of years of testimonies lead us to accept, is that God’s idea of prosperity for us is often different than our own.

To start with, we’re generally only concerned about just that – our own – whereas He is mindful of the prosperity of all people and how each of our experiences interplays with another’s.

Just like a parent constantly makes choices for a child that they aren’t able to make for themselves (because of a lack of foresight, wisdom and maturity) so too, God is working things for our good – our protection, our thriving, our faith development and our future – in ways that sometimes don’t feel like “prosperity” to us.

The most powerful words.

The strength in this verse is in the 3 words at the start. “For I know…”

It’s not really about prosperity. It’s not about a future that we can define and approve. It’s not about hope in circumstances or specific outcomes. It’s about the fact that creator God – all powerful, all creative, all knowing, all loving God – knows.

The message of Jeremiah 29:11 to us today? It’s exactly what it was to the exiled Israelites.

“I see you, I have not forsaken you, your future is in my hands and it’s better than you can perceive or imagine, I’ve got this.”

married at first sight & back to school photos

One of my favourite times on the Facebook calendar is back to school week. My newsfeed is flooded with naaawwww-worthy photos of ‘firsts’. First days of school (massive backpacks on little legs and hiding under seemingly enormous sun hats; school dresses triple hemmed and ‘shorts’ that reach down to mid-calf), first days in a new year level or a new school. Last first days for those at the other end of their schooling. Some show the side by side photos of the changes made across the years – tracking the inevitable growth and accompanying differences. Moving from teary hugs and farewells at the classroom door to the increasing independence that sees a child walking or riding off on their own or with friends.

I love it! It marks a new season, acknowledges the passing of another year, signifies for the family yet another shift in life stage and rhythm and celebrates the success and potential of movement through education and other life markers. And it’s pretty stinkin’ adorable, too.

Running parallel with that this year, was the start of another season of Chanel 9’s super successful ‘reality’ show, Married at First Sight. “Successful” in terms of its ratings, not in regards to its success in bringing couples together who actually stay together. It’s a psychological and relational train wreck that produces fascinating television viewing and boosts the social profile of those who participate (surely that’s part of their purpose for being there, right?). But it also highlights underlying cultural and personal expectations that the narrative of a ‘normal’ or ‘fulfilling’ life is centred around finding your soul mate and living in marital bliss.

In the lead up to the show’s airing, one participant, Sarah, recorded a sound byte that played on repeat,

“I’m 38 years old and I have nothing to show for my life.”

As she looks at her life and she applies the known methods for measuring it, she finds herself with nothing to show for it. This comment (and the fears and feelings that framed it) represent her justification for applying for the show. She’s 38, she’s not married and has no children – time is a’wasting! It’s time to employ emergency measures!

At a cursory glance, this comment is dismissible as untrue. Without knowing anything much about her we could readily identify things she might have to ‘show’ for herself. Lives invested in, experiences she gathered, career and other successes she’s enjoyed. But I think we need to listen to what she’s saying. To lean in a little more and seek to understand more fully what her comment is echoing of a message society sends (in both subtle and more overt ways) of how a life should be measured and celebrated. And particularly how that translates for a Single and/or childless person.

For those who are married, each anniversary is an opportunity to reflect with gratitude and celebrate the achievement. High five, us! We made it through another year! Social media gives opportunity to publicly affirm one’s spouse and for the couple’s community to congratulate and encourage them.

For parents, milestone days – the birth of children, firsts of all kinds, ‘before & after’ pictures denoting achievements, changes and growth, performances and of course, birthdays, engagements and weddings – all bring opportunity to gather friends and family (in real life or online spaces) to again, celebrate, and encourage. To reflect on the journey till now; to dream and plan together for the future.

To use Sarah’s language, these are many of the things you have to “show” for the years you have lived, the transitions you’ve navigated and the impact you’ve made on the earth. These are the things publicly celebrated. They are acceptable, anticipated and even requested opportunities to share with others the rewards of the labours of time, money, energy, expertise and sacrifices of all kinds that bring about these moments.

So, if you are not married and don’t have children – how does your life’s journey get marked and acknowledged? In what moments are the community of a Single person called to gather to celebrate, publicly affirm and encourage, to invest advice and energy, to reflect growth and change, to honour success and draw others in?

Commonly, Singles report that attempts to share moments of celebration, difference or success are often perceived as self-absorbed or self-promoting (“why are you making such a big deal about your birthday?!“) or met with jealousy (“I wish I were Single so I could travel more!“).

The success stories told usually include friends, colleagues or family stepping in to facilitate those celebrations and affirmations. My friend Nancy is a champion at this! She enthusiastically and creatively celebrates the birthdays, new jobs, buying a home, graduations, return from holidays and moving days of her Single friends to ensure they’re well marked. And to draw his or her community into expressions of encouragement and celebration.

Think about the people in your world (specifically but not exclusively Singles and/or childless). How can we act to ensure they know what they ‘have to show’ for the life they’re living? What moments of reflection, celebration, affirmation and gathering can we be part of facilitating?

lessons from driving | do you beep your horn?

The last time I beeped my car horn (other than the friendly little beeps to stop someone from reversing into you) was about 3 months after I got my licence. 

I was 18 years old and driving with my Dad to the local shops. A car was doing dumb things in the carpark – who knows what – they were in my way and not indicating any plans to get out of it. So I beeped. 

My dad told me off. I tried to defend myself with the usual stuff about the other driver being irresponsible or inconsiderate or incompetent. But he pushed back by asking, “but what will it do for them?”

Well, of course my hope was that it would reveal to them the error of their ways and lead them to be a more diligent, thoughtful driver in future. But even as I said it, the unlikelihood of that happening became clear. 

He said I would just make them angry, defensive, frustrated or stressed. And what is that going to mean for them? For the way they’ll drive out of here? For the attitude they’ll take into the rest of their day? For how they’ll drive or speak to their kids or act on the sporting field or speak to the sales assistant? 

Good questions right?

So, I have never beeped in aggression or frustration since.

That resolve was added to by the fact that when people beep at me in traffic I have been known to cry – like actually. I would never drive to be intentionally annoying and so I feel like they’ve misunderstood what I was doing – I want to pull over and explain myself to them. Or I have made an honest mistake and I am traumatised to have made someone mad. I need a lighted sign that says “sorry” so I can switch it on as they drive past.  

My resolve has been further added to as I’ve observed the high level of stress and aggression on the road (manifested in unbelievable and terrifying stories of road rage related violence) and the speed at which people can be prompted to frustration or anger. There appears to be a lot of people who live very near the edge of ignition and only need the smallest spark to erupt in flames. 

Ultimately, beeping at someone is unlikely to do anything positive. While it might satisfy my self-righteousness temporarily it hasn’t really contributed anything good to others or brought any real positive change to the world. 

How about you? Are you a beeper? To quote Dr Phil – “How’s that working for you?”