What if you could see yourself the way others do?

Is confidence seeing yourself as others do? Or is it seeing yourself as you would like to be seen? Is it being fierce and fabulous or quiet and sure? Or is it just being content with the way you are?

The point may be moot since I’ve never met a woman who was completely confident in herself. We may be confident in some areas of our lives and looks but not with our whole body and life, and not all the time. There’s always something we’d like to change. There’s always something we’d like to do better, or more of, or less of.

Some of these insecurities run deep. Some of us take prescription meds to function. Some of us self-medicate in other ways. Some of us try and hide what we don’t want people to see. Some of us just can’t bring ourselves to believe what others tell us. Why? Because it’s arrogant to believe we’re great? Because its vulgar to brazenly accept compliments? Because we can’t, in the deepest darkest places of our hearts, believe that kind of thing is true?

Not me, we think. Not me. And we laugh a little too hard, or shrug it away, or blush and change the subject. All the while we live our lives in clothes that are a bit too big, so we can cover the lumps and bumps, and not saying things because we might show ourselves up, or saying things we don’t mean so people don’t find out what we really think.

It’s all about hiding. As though if people saw or knew the real us, they wouldn’t like it.

As Christians, there is an extra anxiety. In the book of Romans, it says “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8. Not me, we think. It’s a knee-jerk reaction in our brains. Not me. God couldn’t love me. Christ didn’t die for me.

We know in our brains that God loves us. But believing it is something else.

Why? When God has shown his love by sacrificing his own son to bring us to him, why would we doubt for a second his love for us?

You know, I think its because our faith is in ourselves rather than in him. That sounds wrong because surely with low self-esteem, we have no faith in ourselves! But actually, if we believe our self-talk rather than God’s, what does that say? Our faith is in what we think about ourselves, rather than what God has explicitly said about us.

I have been learning a lot lately about life and faith and courage. I feel stronger in spirit and closer to God than ever before. And yet, in my head, I am a lumpy old potato. That is not how God sees me.

A friend recently bought me a make-over and photo session. I would never normally do something like that I have to admit I was terrified and cried a bit too – I knew I wanted to look fabulous, but there is the whole potato-truth thing. There is no photo that can cover that up.

Well, I did it. And it was hard. But it was so worth it. It really made me question where self-image comes from, and why I find it so hard to believe God over myself.

So how do we believe it? Here’s my thinking:

Give it time. You can’t believe something overnight. Especially something as intensely personal as this. Allow it to percolate through your thinking over time. Which leads to my second marker;

Think about it. Don’t avoid thinking about it. Actually make a point of ruminating on it. Thinking about it repeatedly makes it normal, and it needs to be normal.

Take the focus off yourself and put it on God. Let’s stop thinking in terms of what I think about myself and instead think about what God thinks. Write it down. Writing it down makes it concrete. You can go back and look at it in black and white. It’s real.

What would you write? Try thinking about all the amazing things that you do and are. Here’s some starters – God sees me as:

  1. His child
  2. His chosen one
  3. A mum
  4. A woman who can make my kids feel better just by hugging them
  5. A woman who strives to learn about God
  6. A woman of enormous curiosity

Try it. Keep adding to it. If you’re so inclined, scrapbook it. Add pictures. Draw on it. Do it with friends if you find it too hard to start. Do what you like. But on those days when you need it, go and review it and know that the list is written in your hand, and be inspired by how God sees you and your ability to see it too.

Finally, know that having confidence is a quiet thing and its not a forever thing. It is quiet because it is a calm knowledge of how God sees you, which will always be better than we see ourselves. And its not a forever thing because it’s not like we can “get confidence” and then keep it forevs. It rises and falls, it ebbs and flows. There will be good days and bad days. But not for God. “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” Ephesians 1:4

In the meantime, here’s what a lumpy old potato looks like when you put make-up on it.

Where is the line between venting and gossiping?

What is the difference between venting and gossiping? One can be good and healthy and if done right, can diffuse the tension in a situation. The other can be hurtful and toxic and actually inflame a situation. We know this in life, but the bible tells us in no uncertain terms as well. Bear with me.

Most people would recognise that gossiping is bad. But lets pick this apart because there are two types of gossip – there’s passing on rumours about people or there’s airing grievances about people.

Passing on rumours is talking about people behind their backs. It can betray confidences if it was a secret told to you, or it can just be passing on (and embellishing) a rumour about someone – something that might not even be true. It can destroy people.

Airing grievances is putting our spin on people and events. It builds the tension by ascribing motive and emotion to others. It builds the story. It can be about controlling the narrative. It’s about being validated and feeling right. It can spread like a poison and infect others.

And yet, we all seem to be drawn to do it. Gossip has a special pull. It’s exciting. It’s dramatic. It’s validating. It makes special secret bonds. It makes us feel like we’re “in” or even at the centre of things.

Venting can be good. Some of us can process things internally and so don’t need this. But some of us, in the face of hurts or frustrations or disappointments, need to air them to take the sting out. Without airing them, they can grow resentment within us. We can mull and stew and replay and rehearse in our minds those events. Which means we feel those hurts and disappointments over and over and over again. And that’s what grows a bitter root in your heart.

But where does venting, which can be healthy and useful, tip over into gossip?

The book of James pulls no punches and particularly in this area. “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.” James 1:26. Woah.

OK. Here’s what we can do:

1. Recognise that we like to gossip. Just know that as human beings, its something we are drawn to. It’s like admitting the problem is the first step to dealing with it.

2. If you have interactions with people who want to gossip to you or with you, its alright to say that you’re not comfortable to talk about that. Gossip only has power if you give it an open door – shut the door.

3. Be a trustworthy person. If you are told something in confidence, keep it. It’s an exercise in self-control, just like holding in the wee’s when we need to go to the loo. If you feel the need to do a wee, hold it til you get to the bathroom. If you feel the need to share a confidence, hold it in. We are better at self-control than you think. “A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy person keeps a secret.” Proverbs 11:13

4. Put boundaries around your venting. Learn to recognise what is a legitimate airing with the specific purpose of diffusing the hurt and what is you starting to build and inflame the story. If you are the one listening to the venting, its OK for you to put those boundaries up as well – you can be a wise venter and you can be a wise vent-ee. You can give someone air time but gently pull them back in when they are going into gossip territory.

5. Agree with your wise friends to mutually self-check. If you are talking about shared hurts, you can stop and ask “Are we gossiping now?” And if you think you are, or in danger of it, change the subject.

6. When you vent, choose who you vent to wisely. Choose someone who will deal with you lovingly but wisely – don’t deliberately choose someone who will just validate you. We want someone who can help us diffuse the hurt and give us wise advice.

7. Don’t be a poison. None of us mean to be. But we can be. If we gossip rather than vent, we can infect other people with our negative emotions, and we can start feeding off people’s reactions. This is difficult but something we need to be aware of. “Without wood a fire goes out; without a gossip a quarrel dies down.” Proverbs 26:20

8. Recognise that venting has to go somewhere. Once the hurt is aired, it has to be done. A wise friend can help by asking “So what happens now?” Or can give good advice about letting go and looking at the situation with grace and forgiveness. Bearing in mind that forgiveness is not about letting other people off, but it is about freeing yourself from the resentment and bitterness and hurt.

9. Work towards the point of letting it go. At lot of the time, gossip is about validation of our rightness. It’s about controlling the narrative over the other person. That is not an attitude that is filled with grace or love and the only outcome is more hurt for more people. It’s not easy and it doesn’t necessarily happen over night, but work towards letting go. Work towards having grace. Choose what to care about. This is hard. But the bible gives such great guidance. The Psalms show us that God is aware of and understands every fear and negative emotion we have. But in these Psalms, we also see God upholding his people. We don’t get our validation from our friends agreeing with us. We get it from God. “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God.” Psalm 43:5

10. Remember what its for – removing gossip from your life is about creating a cleaner set of thought patterns and developing a more harmonious way of living. Keep working on it. We’re all a work in progress. If you’re someone who loves the drama of a bit of gossip, or know that you find yourself drawn into gossip when someone else is doing it, start watching out for it, and seek help from God and the bible. “Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.” Psalm 141:3

Burnt Butter Savoury Breakfast Oats

I’m more of a savoury fan when it comes to breaky, but I am also a massive fan of comforting bowl food. So recently I started experimenting with overnight oats of a savoury kind. There’s lots of good recipes out there but nothing that really floated m’boat. So here’s what I came up with this weekend that I ended up having for brunch while sitting in bed and watching an ep of Suits:

Burnt Butter Savoury Breakfast Oats

Ingredients (makes 1 serving)

  • 1/2 cup oats
  • 1/2 cup low fat milk plus another 1/4 cup
  • 1/2 cup corn kernels (either frozen or drained from a can is fine)
  • Big nob of butter
  • 1/4 cup pepitas
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika
  • 1/2 cup cheese grated
  • 1 spring onion chopped

Method

Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees.

Place oats and milk in a microwave proof dish and microwave for 90 seconds. Set aside for a moment.

Place pepitas in a bowl, add oil and paprika. Add a pinch of salt. Stir to make sure they are evenly coated. Spread out on an oven dish and bang them in the oven for 5-10 minutes.

Put the corn in a saucepan with the butter on a medium heat. Add a pinch of salt. Heat stirring, so the butter melts. Let the corn cook until the butter goes brown and there is charring on the corn itself.

Add the other 1/4 cup of milk to the oats and put in the microwave for 40 seconds. Add all ingredients to a bowl, take it back to bed with a coffee and don’t even think about getting up for a while.

Complaining to God is honest, healthy and biblical

I am English and so not complaining is part of my DNA. We complain by staring at someone moodily or sighing disdainfully or – if you really want to show your displeasure – tutting loudly.

I also live in Australia and here, complaining is seen as just whinging. (By the way, the stereotype of a “Whinging Pom” has some truth in it. And I mean that with the deepest fondness for my people.)

In either country, complaining is a negative thing. It’s impolite or its arrogant and boring, or all of the above. But where does complaining come from? It comes from an inadequately met need (I really needed you and you weren’t there for me). Or a hurt (It feels like you’re being really cold towards me). Or an un-fulfilled agreement (I order a steak and chips and you brought me low-fat yoghurt).

We stifle these thoughts. We swallow the things we would say. That’s all well and good. We don’t to be permanently at war with people, and frankly complaining can be habit forming. But if we don’t put voice to our hurts somehow, what we are swallowing becomes resentment. It tricks us into thinking our feelings don’t matter and shouldn’t be voiced.

The one person we can tell anything to is God. So why don’t we complain to him? Well, if complaining is whinging or impolite, surely he’s the last person we would speak to! Really? Even when the bible says that he’s the first person we should speak to? Check out 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18!

There are some barriers when we talk to God, I think. I certainly feel like I have to have a certain tone or demeanour. I feel like I need a formula because he’s, you know, God. So I pretend those negative feelings aren’t there, or I pray for things like help with my patience with people, or extending grace to people. Essentially I’m praying for those feelings to go away.

Trying to make feelings go away without dealing with them invariably comes back to bite us in the bum. You can squash the feelings down, you can suppress them and cover them up, but that doesn’t mean they’ve gone away.

The incubation period for various illnesses can vary before they start showing symptoms. The incubation period for negative feelings is the same, and one day, it will suddenly affect your relationships or your mental health or your ability to operate freely and without barriers.

So what to do? I read something about the Book of Job recently that I’d never noticed before. If you don’t know Job, he’s a faithful guy who is beset by the worst possible set of calamities to see if, while he’s faithful in the good times, would he reject God in the bad times. All the way through, a series of friends tell him these traumas must be happening because of something he did so he should repent and perform the right ceremonies and be right with God again. All the way through, Job refuses and says I know I’m right with God and God knows it too – and I’m not going to perform some empty rituals to prove it. God doesn’t want empty rituals. He wants an honest heart.

But the guy is suffering unimaginable anguish, and he does start complaining (have a look at Job 23:1-4 and in each speech he starts to go on a bit. I mean, understandable….but…you know…. But then when God answers, he rebukes the friends for their lack of wisdom and says they have not spoken the truth as Job has (Job 42:7). Job, who has complained and whinged. That is the true and honest heart. Job was faithful but he was honest in his words. He laid bare his heart as he was hurting.

Complaining doesn’t mean we are unfaithful or ungrateful. It means we are being honest. The Psalms are full of complaints – accusing God of leaving them, of not listening to their prayers, asking when he will come and save them. It’s honest.

We can learn so much from this. We don’t have to pray like we’re statues – “Oh exalted God, how great thou art to me, please Lord of all the heavens make me penitent and pure….” Pft. If that floats your boat, then great. Go for it. There are no rules for prayer. Me? I think its OK and honest and biblical to pray “God, this thing happened today and it really hurt me. Help me process it!” It’s OK to acknowledge those feelings and sit in them while you process them with God’s help.

This is still a faithful prayer. It is an honest prayer. It is also a healthy and useful prayer – it does something with those negative emotions. Instead of trying to make them go away, it sends them to God. It is not stifling, its active. That’s one of the things that Job teaches us and its one of the things that Psalms shows us.

Knitting for mental health. Yes. Really.

I have a problem. I realised a long time ago that while watching the TV to relax in the evening, I would also be on my phone. I couldn’t seem to stop. If I tried to put my phone away, my eyes darted around and I couldn’t seem to focus or settle. It was as though my brain needed two things to be happening to feel satisfied. I’ve seen those memes that describe being a woman as having 12,000 tabs open in our brains, and I think its true!

The trouble is, if my brain needs this split stimulus, it means I’m having trouble being in the moment. It means I have trouble relaxing and just focussing on one thing. It also means I was never truly de-compressing my brain and was staying wired right up until I was supposed to be sleeping (and guess how that was going?)

Well, I thought, if my brain needs more things, clearly social media or word games is not a healthy thing to occupy it with while I watch Masterchef. So I taught myself to knit. During the school holidays, I watched YouTube videos to learn how to cast on and all that jazz. Then I set about knitting squares to get into the swing of things.

Thankfully, My Mate Kathryn saved me from myself. She can actually knit. She set me up with a pattern for a snazzy blanket, showed me where to get good wool and taught me how to do it.

What a revelation. There’ve been several benefits I just wasn’t expecting. First, it has helped me to stop the split focus thing. With my hands and part of my brain occupied in the task of knitting, it helps trick my brain into thinking it has tabs open. But because its a repetitive task, I don’t have to think about it too much so I can focus on the moment far better.

Also, exactly because it is repetitive, it helps me to relax. And, I’ve learned a new task (I know! At my age!!) – and I’m gradually getting better with practice so there’s a sense of accomplishment. Add to that the fact that I’m creating something and there is an immense satisfaction.

I decided to knit a blanket for each of my kids. It makes me happy thinking I’m creating something for them. It’ll be (hopefully) they keep and cherish.

It’s no surprise of course. Knitting is used as therapy for lots of conditions like anxiety, depression, stress, even chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder. Because it is calm and repetitive, it is almost meditative (which is why it works so well as a therapeutic activity). I used to support the local women’s domestic violence refuge via our church ministry and they used to have knitting groups for just that kind of purpose.

It’s also not just women who are doing it now too – even guys are getting in on it, because it is so good for mental health! You can even double down and make blankets and beanies for people in need which just enriches the mental health benefits and makes the world a bit better as well.

The best thing is that every so often, me and My Mate Kathryn and My Mate Meredith will have a knitter-natter – an old school get together to chat and laugh and and share while we knit. And there is nothing better than sharing all this with friends.

Give it a go. I highly recommend it (although I have a no-shares-sies policy on Kathryn and Meredith).