Monday Musings – Living with Conflict

conflict

It was a Facebook post from a friend of mine that got me thinking about this topic. I was going to make a comment but thought that instead of doing that, I’m dedicating this blog post to him. This is for you friend.

Conflict is inevitable. If you’re human, you will know this all too well. We live in a world where conflict runs rampant. Turn on the news and you’ll know what I mean. Conflict is everywhere.

It is easy to think of conflict as an idea until that conflict becomes personal. Suddenly, conflict becomes real. Now, you have to do something about it because you have no choice but to deal with it. Refusal to deal with it is still dealing with it. Honestly, this has probably been the way that I have dealt with conflict for most of my life. Either I try to avoid it or refuse to deal with it. Both are not the best options… but it sure ranks as my top two responses to conflict.

When we refuse to deal with the conflict, it has a way of forcing us to deal with it. Something will happen that will conjure up previous memories of how someone has wronged you. While the situation might change, your reaction to that person stays the same. I have had to deal with situations in the past when I felt I was wronged or disrespected by a friend. However, during the time that it happened, I didn’t say anything. Silence does not mean that you have forgotten the hurtful words or actions they have done. Fast forward to a different time and place in the future and that same person does the same thing again. This time your reactions seems rather overboard compared to the situation but it’s because you have held on to that anger. As a result, your reaction has doubled or tripled. Refusing to deal with conflict can sometimes exacerbate it instead of diminishing it.

Sometimes, we can’t avoid the person who is the source of our conflict. In my case, we were roommates. We had similar personalities but where we differed, we really differed.  We both knew that there was a problem. He wanted to deal with it but I didn’t. I ended up isolating myself from him and others who were associated with him. That is not the way that conflict should be handled. Eventually, we sat down and we got real. We told each other what bothered us about the other person and how we can minimize future conflict. We got to know one another in a new light. Instead of trying to be understood, we tried to understand each other. I had the privilege of being a groom’s man at his wedding. If you would have told me that a few years earlier, I would have thought it impossible.

I still hate conflict. If anything, my top two responses to conflict hasn’t changed. But I have also learned that conflict can be the best thing that can happen in your relationship if you handle conflict properly. Conflict resolution has the potential to bring two people together in a more intimate and authentic way. However, there are also times when the best way to handle conflict is to part ways amicably and “wish nothing but the best” for that person. Trying to figure out which is the best option requires time, maturity and wisdom.

Whatever happens, conflict is here to stay. The question is: how will you deal with it? Will you let it affect your life in a negative way or will you allow it to be a catalyst for better living? The choice is yours to make.

Monday Musings – Living with regret

regretIt would be nice if we can go through life without regretting some of the things we have done. But, that is often not the case. A lot of the times, there are relationships we have had that should never have happened in the first place. Sometimes, it’s the opposite. There are relationships that we should have started. When I look back at my life, the common denominator in all the situations and experiences that I have gone through is this: fear.

Fear has this horrible way of setting paths askew. I can remember so many goals I have had that has been derailed by my own fears. In my mind’s eye, there was a straight line. I was focussed on the prize. I was ready to do whatever it takes to achieve it. I counted the cost. I knew it was going to be tough but I had tenacious determination that I could do it. With great gusto, I went charging ahead, daring to defy the world to come at me. Hurtling forward, it was almost dizzying with all the excitement that launching into the great unknown can sometimes give. Everything tends to go your way in those early days. And then, out of nowhere, it hits you. What if the prize isn’t really worth it? What if this is the wrong path? What if this whole thing is a joke in the first place? Can I actually achieve what I have set out to try and achieve? In those moments, the straight path doesn’t look so straight anymore. It is full of detours and sign posts to turn back from whence you came. So, you head back to where you started. Then you suddenly realize something: your starting point just became your finish line. It is at this point that you start regretting turning back. If only I stayed the course… if only I kept on going… if only I didn’t listen to all the negative voices… if only… if only…

I’ve lived with regret for most of my life. Why didn’t I do this? I really should’ve done that! These are some of the questions and statements that pop up in my head from time to time. The one positive thing that can happen when you live with regret is that you are also able to realize a few things about yourself that you may have never known unless you have felt regret in your life. I can’t believe how easy it is for me to be distracted by fear. I can’t believe how easy it is for me to want to turn back and run at the thought of potentially failing. My hope is that I can turn my regrets into reminders. A reminder that I am never alone. A reminder that the darkness can never truly extinguish the light. A reminder that I constantly underestimate myself. A reminder that I am stronger than I imagined and wiser than I thought I could be. A reminder that I am made perfect by the One who made me.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject. Have you ever lived with regret? How did it affect you?

Monday Musings – Living with hope

hope

“This world’s a tortured place to be / So many things to torment me / And as I stumble down this road / It takes a toll” – dc Talk, Supernatural

There are times in one’s life when the waves of insecurity comes crashing down so vehemently that one is left struggling to gasp for the air of hope. Each wave threatens to pound you down even further and further into the abyss of despair. It is hard to breathe, almost impossible, it seems. The will to struggle for survival is almost extinguished. The glassy eyes of apathy are but a symptom of this condition. The maelstrom of negative emotions swirling within leaves behind a destructive trail of broken dreams, failed attempts and copious amounts of tears.

Sometimes, it becomes easier to live in the land of depression. No one can hurt you there. After all, you’re already hurt. It is so much easier to curl up in an emotional fetal position than to stand up and daily live out the hurts and the pains of past, present and future. It takes courage and boldness and strength to face the challenges of today when reminded about the failures of the past and fear of the future. But to live in a state of constant anguish and anxiety is not a way to live. It saps you of energy. Vitality leaves your bones and is replaced with the burden of weariness that seeps into every fiber of your being. To prevent this from happening, it is important, nay crucial, to have hope.

Hope allows us to get through the day. It gently reminds us that the hurts of today does not have to be the hurts of tomorrow. Hope tells us that “this, too, shall pass.” Hope is the faint whisper of “things will get better” when we feel that our world is falling apart. Hope is what enables us to face yet another day that we fear to face.

It’s really easy to get trapped in the endless loop within our heads of how things are going wrong. One wrong thing after one wrong thing keeps on happening that sometimes I start wondering why the world/God/fate is against me. Hope is what enables us to get out of the horrible feedback loop we sometimes find ourselves in. Hope is our way out.

When it is impossible to change our circumstances, the one thing we can change is our perspective. You can let problems rule you or you can raise your fists in the air in defiance and shout “is that it?” Hope doesn’t mean that you fail to recognize your problems. That’s called denial. Hope is acknowledging that you have problems without letting your problems reign over you. Hope is what gives us the strength to wake up and fight every day. Never give up. Don’t quit. Choose to fight back. Choose hope.

Monday Musings – Living with doubts

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In the words of Five for Fighting’s eponymous song, “it’s not easy to be me.” I always wonder how to answer the question “how are you?” when posed in social settings. Do you really want to know or are you asking me because social etiquette dictates that normal conversations usually begin with that particular question? There are times when I am tempted to just unload what I really think but I often hold back. No one deserves to get dumped on like that with no previous warning. My friends are usually the ones who truly ask me how I’m doing. They don’t readily accept an “I’m fine, how are you” response. After the initial question, the follow-up question of “really, how are you?” is posed. That’s when the reality of my situation begins.

I’m currently doing my Ph.D. in Christian Theology. I just finished my first year of course work. It was as challenging as I thought it would be. And more. But, it was also strangely rewarding. I’m really thankful that I get to do what I get to do. I’m surrounded by people who have devoted themselves to studying the Scriptures more intensely and more actively than most people. How awesome is that? When you’re surrounded by greatness, it is really easy to wonder if you belong. I often wonder if they picked my name by mistake. Maybe, I got in the Ph.D. program by a clerical error. The feeling of “I don’t belong here” can be really debilitating. They have a name for this condition. It’s called  Impostor Syndrome. I have it and many in the Ph.D. program have it too. Apparently, becoming faculty doesn’t quite erase the feeling. That’s always good to know. =)

I also wonder how I can remain in the program. Financially speaking, I’m at my wits’ end trying to figure out how to fund this endeavour. Money may not buy you happiness but it sure can help you buy the things that make you happy. Right now, I really don’t know where the funding will come from. And that’s scary. I’m looking for a job that will allow this to happen and I’m not sure if I can find a job that would enable me to make it possible. This is when the small doubts coalesce to an avalanche that threatens to overwhelm me and bury me in its wake.

Yet, during this most doubtful of times, God has sent people along the way to affirm me. He reminds me that I am on the right path. He reminds me that I am where I need to be. I think my first response when confronted with doubt is to run away and cut my losses. Yet, I know that if I quit, I would never be able to live with myself. Like a moth to a flame, I would find myself back in this very same scenario time and time again.

As a friend once said, “I am exactly where I need to be.” I find strange comfort in that. Success is often measured on how many obstacles you had to overcome to get to your goal. Doubts present us with obstacles, real or imagined, that try to tell us that we can’t make it or that it can’t be done. I have no doubt that I will not be able to make it through without the One who gives me strength. In Him, I have no doubt. He will help me make it through.

Monday Musings – Living with Shame

Hi everyone,

It has been too long since my last post. And yes, that was supposed to sound like a confession. However, I am back! I wanted to re-start a weekly section of my blog which I will be calling “Monday Musings.” This is a space where I will be talking about the things that I have been thinking and mulling over in my head.

For those who are potentially new to this website, welcome and thanks for dropping by! The goal of this website is to foster a safe place where people can learn from one another so please feel free to comment and share your thoughts with me! I am a big fan of discussions BUT I also feel that discussions should take place in a civil and kind way. The moment that discussions start venturing into personal attacks or creating a negative atmosphere where people no longer feel free to express their views then I will take the necessary steps to remedy that. Hopefully, that wouldn’t happen.

Today’s blog post has been inspired by a TED talk by Brené Brown on shame. I think that shame is something that everyone has or will struggle with at least once in their life. These are my musings on the subject matter.

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shame

Maybe it’s just me but I am really good at compartmentalization. I have friends for different purposes. If I want a deep theological talk, I have a friend for that. If I want to have fun, I have a friend for that. If I want to talk about the arts, I have a friend for that. I have a personal world and a professional world. I have different sets of friends who have never met each other and I try my best to make sure it never happens. I’m a social chameleon. I can change depending on who is around me. To a certain degree, we all do that unconsciously. However, when we consciously put on a mask, sometimes we can forget to take it off. What we pretend to be becomes who we end up being. It becomes a blurry line.

Behind all the pretending and the acting, there is a voice that serves as the bread and butter of shame. It is the thought that no one will love you for who you are when they finally realize who you truly are. It is in the secret place that shame rules and reigns. All the surface affirmations do nothing to address it because it is easy to dismiss them. “You say that because you don’t know the real me. If you only knew…” becomes the standard response. “If you only knew…” becomes the tired refrain.

The problem with shame is that no one can actually know you because you don’t allow yourself to be known. All they see is the outside: they see someone who’s an extravert, someone who seems like he has it all together, someone who laughs loudly and is often the life of the party. They don’t necessarily see what is happening on the inside: the plague of insecurity, the constant self-doubt of being good enough, the nagging fear that I will never find someone who will truly love me for all of me.

Vulnerability becomes the main mechanism for exposing shame. While shame still manages to have a grip on my life, its grip has been lessened by the fact that I have been blessed with friends with whom I practice openness and transparency. I’m thankful for these people who have spoken truth and love and grace into my life. They remind me how warped my perspective can be at times and how my shame needs to be crushed into oblivion. I don’t know where I would be without their life-giving advices over the years.

Shame is a horrible bedmate. To wake up in shame and find no escape even in sleep from it is a horrendous way to live. Been there. Done that. That’s something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Overcoming shame is a life-long battle. Thankfully, it’s a battle that you don’t have to do all by yourself. Take the risk of vulnerability. It’s worth it.

 

A Lenten Poem

cross

The sky darkening
Thunder
It was as if the heavens themselves wanted to let the earth know of their anger
It was more than they can bear.

From the lofty heights, the clouds saw what was happening below
“What insanity has taken hold of the mortals?”, they wondered.
He was the One to redeem creation itself
Yet it was He whom they were intent on killing.

The trees began to whisper to one another
What madness is this that they chose one of our own to bring about His death?
They wanted no part in this folly
They wanted to clap their hands in praise
Instead, they mourned that one of their lot became a weapon of His destruction.

The winds were often thankful in His presence even if He did rebuke them that one time for their excitement
The words that came from His mouth gave them such pleasure to spread all over the world
Today, his cry was too much for their hearing
Eloi Eloi lama sabachthani
They wept at the message they had to send to the Father.

The rocks grumbled their disapproval
They could remain silent no more
The mortals had the audacity to nail his hands and feet
This can not be!

Michael, readying the legions of angel
Raphael, sharpening his sword
Gabriel, in utter disbelief that these puny beings should dare lay a hand on Him
Azrael, waiting to wreak vengeance.

They waited for the signal to lend Him aid
He but needed to speak the word
None came from his lips.

It is finished.

Meditations on 2013: A year in review

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Around this time last year, I was busy preparing for my Ph.D. application. I had just finished my Greek exegesis course and was busily doing research and writing for my writing sample. I had spoken with my thesis supervisor and decided that it would be better to write a brand-new writing sample based on my proposed dissertation topic so I can have a good base of research before heading into the program. This year, all the planning and the preparations to achieve this goal reached its fruition. I am delighted to say that I have finished my first semester of Ph.D. studies! Woohoo!

There are so many times in life when our dreams and our goals can feel like they are so close, yet so far. We can almost grasp it, but it is also a breath away from making it ours. 2013 reminded me of the power of perseverance. It is important to keep going, to keep striving after that illusive dream. Because sometimes, that dream can turn into a reality. But after going through everything, that reality starts feeling like it’s a dream =)

I think it would be disingenuous to say that perseverance is the only factor in achieving one’s goal. More and more, I am convinced and convicted that all my dreams would never happen without the love and the support of the people around me. After all, no man is an island. We are surrounded by people who help us become the people we are, whether they be friends or foes. I am so thankful to have family and friends who cheer me on and are praying for my success. Without them, I would never be able to where I am today. It sounds so cliché but once you factor in all the financial, emotional, spiritual, psychological and intellectual support one needs to achieve anything, it becomes less of a cliché and more as an undeniable fact. We need our communities to survive and thrive. Without them, life is empty.

Yet, as much as I truly value my family and friends for all of the help they have given me, it but pales in comparison with the love and grace that my God gives me on a daily basis. If anything, I see my family and friends as a visible expression of God’s love towards me. It always shames me to no end at how unfaithful I am to Him, and how it is always flabbergasting to know that even when I am faithless, He is always ever faithful to me. Awhile ago, I was talking to a friend about success and how our understanding of success is primarily based on the goal we have set before us. For me, I have said that if I am still in love with God, and actually confounded more this year than the year before about how much love and grace He has given unto me, then that would be a success. If I still yearn to walk in His ways, and grow even stronger in my desire to follow after Him this year than the year before, then that would be a success.

2013 was a success. Let’s hope that 2014 brings even more of it.

Fear of failure Part 2: The inner life of a (recovering) perfectionist

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Image from: evokeandimagine.com

Hi! My name is Sid and I’m a perfectionist. There. I said it. I’m really trying hard not to be a perfectionist. But just like how some can slip from time to time, so, too, can this recovering perfectionist!

It was tough. I knew it was going to be tough, so it wasn’t much of a surprise. But knowing it’s tough and living through the tough are two different things. I knew within the first week that PhD was going to kick my butt. A lot. And boy, did it ever do that!

I had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine a week ago. I told her that I had just received my mark for a paper I handed in and that I didn’t fail. “Of course, you didn’t fail. You’re smart!,” she said. She continued on and said that “it is always the smart people who think they’re going to fail while those who usually fail thought they did a great job.” To which I quickly replied, “and that’s why we don’t fail. Because we always think we’re going to so we make sure that we don’t.”

I thought of that response that came so naturally to me. And it made me think that living in constant fear is probably not a good idea. Having a perpetual Sword of Damocles over one’s head is not conducive to joy or peace. As difficult as it is, I am trying to live a life that is not filled with perpetual fear of failing, of not living up to expectations that I have received from others or even myself. How easy it is for me to want to be like everyone else, but me!

I was reading this post by my friend, Sherree Worrell. These were the words that struck me:

“I’m right where I’m supposed to be…”

I can’t tell you how many times this year I’ve said this. Sometimes I believed it, sometimes not so much. But, I’m a firm believer that the Universe doesn’t put us in places we’re not supposed to be…at least not for long. It’s what we learn in those places that make the difference in how we go forward with life.

I think the reason why I’m so afraid of failure, of not being good enough and all that negativity, is because deep down inside, I feel like I don’t belong. I don’t belong in this place, in this culture, in this space, in this time. I constantly feel that I have to prove my worth because somehow I am innately worthless. I try so hard not to fail because, when push comes to shove, I think that I am a failure. There is a big difference between doing something that can be labelled as a failure vs. be-ing failure. One is something that you do; the other is something that you are.

I’m thankful that I have friends who just give it to me straight. After complaining to another friend about how I feel, she said “Stop saying that! If you’re a failure, then what about the rest of us?” I had to laugh when she said that considering that’s exactly how I feel when skinny people complain that they’re fat. Part of my life journey is being able to accept myself, flaws and all, and be able to show love and grace to myself. It is something that others have given to me so freely, for which I am thankful. It is something that God has given to me so lavishly, for which I am humbled. I belong here. And I don’t have to fight so hard to prove that I belong. Otherwise, that kinda ruins the whole concept of belonging =)

Thanks world, for constantly affirming me that I’m right where I’m supposed to be. Thanks God, for constantly validating me of that very fact.

Wednesday Writings – Nov. 27, 2013

heathhighres1

 

Hey everyone,

Sorry for the non-frequency of blog posts. Ph.D. is tough!!! However, that doesn’t mean that I have forgotten all about my blog. Hopefully, you’re still following me.

Today’s inspiration is an artist named Heath McNease. I was recently listening to this track and it was just so raw and so real. I have the greatest admiration for artists who are just so authentic and vulnerable. When you listen to him, it’s almost voyeuristic. I feel like I’m peeking into his mind and heart as he shares it through his songs. I met him in a concert awhile ago and he’s such a great guy. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter. Support his work. Buy some albums. Tell him he’s awesome.

This was the accompanying description of the track:

We were travelling from Montreal to Moncton, New Brunswick. It was a gray, rainy day that turned into a frozen, windy night. During a 15 hour drive your thoughts will wonder. We talked to each other about everything. We freestyled, listened to “Daddy’s Lambo” by Yelawolf 100 times for no reason, played “would you rather”, and alternated sleep schedules. It is in those moments of drifting to sleep in the backseat and those moments when you’re the only person awake behind the wheel when your mind will play incredible tricks on you. That’s what this song really is. Its just being out there on this huge highway we know nothing about. Its about leaving a place where the signs were in French and driving to a place where you hope things are more familiar (and they’re not). Its about the epic scale of Canada. This place is just so wide open, and that 3 am darkness just felt like it was going to swallow us whole. That’s when doubt creeps in. That’s when you start telling yourself you’re a failure. That’s when you start thinking that God is either setting you up for failure, or he has just decided that you’re not going to amount to anymore than you are in that moment…cold, hungry, confused, and exhausted. As an artist…the best part about being left to your own devices is that you’re mind might be plaguing you, but you’ve got all the time in the world to put it into perspective. This song is just that. Its us figuring out what that drive really was all about.

The thing is I’ve totally felt those feelings. The feeling of being set up for failure or that I’m not going to amount to anything. And it is a horrible feeling. And sometimes, it can be overwhelming.

This poem is inspired by the artist and his works.

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Portrait of a man 

Sometimes, in the dark, when the lights are off and left alone with my thoughts
Fear assaults, fear attacks, fear pounces
I am left battered, shamed into submission
My nerves are frayed, and I want to cry
But I don’t.
Not because I don’t want to
It’s because I know how useless it is.

I wonder why I have to feel this way
I look around and see the smiling faces, the fake masks
It’s easier to hide than to reveal
Less problematic, and they don’t know what I’m going through.
I keep it in.
Not because I want to
It’s because no one understands.

Through the pain, I hear your words
So real, so true, so raw
Your voice sings my pain and my confusion
And I want to stop listening because it hurts
It pains me that I am not alone
No one should feel like I feel
You understand me too well.

Fear of not being good enough: the inner life of a (recovering) perfectionist

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Hi! My name is Sid and I’m a perfectionist. There. I said it. I’m really trying hard not to be a perfectionist. But just like how some can slip from time to time, so can this recovering perfectionist!

In a couple of days, I will be starting my Ph.D. journey at McMaster Divinity College in the Theology program. Maybe it’s just me, but I already feel like I’m behind on my readings and school work… and school hasn’t even started yet! It’s really difficult for me not to look around the people who are going and not feel like I’m good enough. Some of them are presenting at conferences or on a panel for some colloquium thing… and I’m at home wondering what I’m going to cook for lunch. Sigh.

There is actually a thing called Impostor Syndrome.  It’s a condition found among many graduate students and academics. Basically, it’s this feeling that they’re a fraud and live in fear that they’re going to be found out. No matter how many awards, medals, plaques, trophies and words of affirmation they may receive, they never internalize their accomplishments. They attribute it to external factors like luck or that they just worked harder. For me, another factor that I have attributed my success to is lack of qualified candidates during the time that I won. It is pretty horrible the more I think about it because in my refusal to acknowledge my accomplishment, I have to denigrate other people’s abilities.

Throughout high school, I was a member of the Honours List. I graduated from my undergrad as a cum laude student (with honours). I even graduated from my Masters program on the Honours List and the recipient of the academic excellence award. And I still think I’m dumb! Usually, people tell you that you don’t need to listen to what others tell you. Instead, just believe in yourself. However, I find myself being the exact opposite. I have to listen to what others have told me (aka you’re smart!) rather than listening to what I tell myself (aka you’re really dumb!) Other people are way more gracious and capable of seeing things that I cannot see in myself. I think the only time that I feel smart is when I feel threatened and someone says (or makes me feel) like I’m dumb… it is only then that I act as if I know and believe that I’m smart.

When you have spent the majority of your life being constantly compared to others by your parents, it’s really hard to switch it off. It may have started off with them, but you end up internalizing that type of toxic mentality. There comes up a point though when you have to be responsible for your own actions and thoughts. I get riled up when people blame their parents, friends, or some other external agents for their own issues. Part of growing up is taking responsibility for your actions and stop blaming others. You are the one in charge of living your life and you can’t pass the buck to someone else when things don’t go well for you.

At the end of the day, I am thankful that I am no longer my own. My worth and self-esteem is found in the One Who has given Himself up for me. As I think of the love of Jesus, I am comforted that His love for me is unconditional. He’s not going to love me more or less because of my academic achievements or professional success in life. He loves me just the way I am. To Him, I’m good enough.

Thank God!