Archive for March, 2012

Is Wisdom a Result of Nature or Nurture?

I have always wanted people to think I’m wise. When I was younger I believe I might have entertained the notion that I was! Embarrassing! But I reckon as each of us gets older we realise how unwise we can really be. That has been my experience; I’m hoping I am not alone!

Having said that, though, certain characters do seem to be wiser than others. When I think of the word ‘wise’, I always imagine a patient, quick-to-listen and temperate person who can handle stress and difficulty as if they were in a boat above the water, rather than drowning in the waves. They do not breakdown, they are considerate of others, and have well considered judgments and opinions on current issues. Have I just described some sort of superman!???

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But even if the list above is a bit too much, I have found that certain characters tend to seem wiser than others. From my perspective, it tends to be those that are able to control their emotions, quick to listen rather then quick to speak, content with their position in life and, for me, someone who follows Jesus. Having said that though, I believe there are many wise non-Christians, so even though I do feel that it is ultimately wise to follow Christ, I want this discussion to be slightly more general. Therefore I will not primarily be discussing that aspect of wisdom in this article.

I work for a finance company in their customer services (CS) department. There are about 200 employees in my department and about 60 in my section. I really enjoy it, and believe in it’s ethical code of practice. But, a few weeks ago I had a bad week, and I will explain why. If any of you work in an office, you will know that there are many different types of people who react, work and think differently all working in the one environment. Each manger has to become accustomed to how the members of their team works, and a good manger will work according to individuals’ preference where they can.

I have always been quite ambitious and very driven in my work. As a result, I am constantly asking questions: asking if I can go on training, if I can start something new . . . ect. When I worked in another sector of the CS this was encouraged, and I was praised for doing it. However, when I moved to a new sector of CS I did not consider the possibility that the dynamic was different. As such, I continued to be innovative and demanding. I started to get some negative feedback from individuals in my sector, and I didn’t know why. I believed that I was trying my best to be an asset, but was met with resistance. I also found that some normal practices from my previous sector were not appropriate for the new sector, and my manger kindly pointed this out when I asked in private.

But I carried on innovating, and trying to implement change, not just because I thought it would benefit the company, but because I enjoyed it. Unfortunately, some of my ideas were put forward because of my own enjoyment in the process, rather than well thought out ideas with good reason why they would progress our sector. This was picked up by one of my mangers, who helped me see how it could come across to the rest of the team.

I asked for lots of changes to be made, and I thought I was following the advice of the department. But when I presented my ideas, I was told that I hadn’t listened to the instructions, and could I go away and do it again. This got me so upset that I started crying (in private, I hasten to add). Unfortunately, this is one of the main areas in which I fall down from my list of wise attributes: controlling one’s emotions. Anyway, I was able to talk it out, and was told that I had not listened to instructions. I said that I thought I had, and I was sorry if I missed something. I was also told that there was a general feeling of frustration with my requests, because I had asked for the same things over and over again in different ways, even though I had been told ‘no’. I was totally unaware that I had done this because of the amount of request I had made. But once it was pointed out I could see that I had! I again apologised. Afterward, I was very pleased to have had that conversation because I realised that I had a lot to learn about wisdom.

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I would say that it is part of my character to be impulsive and outspoken. It is also part of my character to be extrovertly sensitive. It seems to me that someone who is introverted emotionally will seem a lot wiser than someone like me. It also seems that intelligent, confident, but not-so-outspoken people will seem wiser that I. But does that mean that they are naturally wiser? Or does it mean that they have refined there character though choice and experience to become wiser? Are some people born with characters which seem wiser then others? Or can all characters be refined to maturity?

Perhaps my title question is a false dichotomy? Perhaps it cannot be either nature or nurture that result in wisdom, but a mixture of both? Perhaps if we do not think of wisdom as a particular characteristic, which we so often do, but rather think of it as the maturing of character. Therefore, all types of people are able to develop different-looking Wisdom, much like there are many types of beauty, perhaps there are many ways that wisdom can present itself. In fact, that is quite a lovely image. And it motivates me to develop myself, not primarily in material success, but in the development of my character.

Of course all wisdom comes from God, whether you believe in him or not. My best bet for refining my character will be to follow him will all my energy. Here is a beautiful passage from the Bible on Wisdom:

“I, wisdom, dwell together with prudence;
I possess knowledge and discretion.
To fear the LORD is to hate evil;
I hate pride and arrogance,
evil behavior and perverse speech.
Counsel and sound judgment are mine;
I have insight, I have power.
By me kings reign
and rulers issue decrees that are just;
by me princes govern,
and nobles—all who rule on earth.[a]
I love those who love me,
and those who seek me find me.
With me are riches and honor,
enduring wealth and prosperity.
My fruit is better than fine gold;
what I yield surpasses choice silver.
I walk in the way of righteousness,
along the paths of justice,
bestowing a rich inheritance on those who love me
and making their treasuries full.”

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Why I Started, Stopped, and Started Going to Church Again.

please note: the people in the photographs are not personally mentioned, nor is their involvement implied, in this story

I have been asked by a few people to share with them now I became a Christian, and why I later decided to get into the rave scene. I thought I would write a post about it, as I am certain that other people might ask me again in the future – and it would be really useful to be able to direct them straight to this page.

I’m also going to be as honest as I can in my short auto-biography; not because I want to be self-indulgent, but rather that I think others may find this account helpful, in that they might be able to relate to it in some way. I often find that it is detail that brings a story alive, and can help me relate to it; I have assumed this is also true for others.

I was brought up in a loving Christian home, for which I am very grateful. When I was young, I didn’t find church that boring, as some might. The church I was a part of was the best I could ask for. There was a great youth work, and I had lots of friends to hang out with, and boys I that I found increasingly fascinating. But as I emerged into my teens, I only really went to church for the social life. I remember I would use church as a place to try out new clothes to see what my friends would think, and a place to develop what I now understand as a ‘social status’.

By the time I was 14 my girlfriends were becoming increasingly attractive, and the boys were noticing them. Unfortunately, my looks were going the other way. Acne runs in my father’s side of the family, and from about 13 I had started getting spots, which became increasingly worse and appeared all over my face and body. I was also a rather fat young woman. I had been quite ill when I was 8 years old, and had gained a lot of weight, and it stuck, along with an enjoyment for food, books and films. I would have been destined to become the world’s leading geek if it had not have been for my extraverted and confident personality. Yet, along with my confidence, I was also very sensitive, which meant I was prone to crying when I became upset, regardless of who’s company I was in. Often, in fact, my confidence, which carried with in a great amount of naivety, often resulted in me saying or doing the wrong things that would cause another offense, which would set me of crying.

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Me at College

In short, I was intensely emotional and passionate in all things that I did and thought, and therefore, when I started to realise that I was the social underdog due to my less-than-attractive appearance, it upset me terribly. Yet, at this stage I could use my forward and excitable personality to keep my friends interested, and even develop some friendships with the boys in my simple social network.

At this age, something happened that changed the course of my life. I became baptised in the Holy Spirit, which is what Christians call a tangible and intimate personal experience of God. It was a very special time, and from that point I was totally in love with Jesus. I had been filled with the Holy Spirit during the time that a man named Ram Babu had been visiting our church, and he encouraged us to read 10 chapters of the bible a day. So I did, and at the age of 14 I read the entire Bible. There were many things that I didn’t understand about the Bible, which I was unconscious of at this young age. If there was ever a passage that I didn’t understand, or didn’t fit with my theology, I relied solely on my personal experience of God, which allowed me to really ‘know’ what he was like: I didn’t feel that I needed much more.

My girlfriends at church did not have the same experience of God at the same time as me. My best friend had experienced God in a powerful way, but it had been when she was even younger than I, so by the age of 15 she had started to become uninterested in Christian things. I remember this being very difficult for me. But really, the reason I found it so difficult was that I started to realise that all my Christian girlfriends had experience with guys, and I didn’t. My best friend had a non-Christian boyfriend, and my other Christian friends at the time had had encounters with non-Christian guys, or were going out with Christians.

I also had a youth leader at the time, whom I knew desperately wanted to get married, and I could tell that it was a really emotional subject for her. I started to fear that I would be like her, and started to believe that I would never get married. From my limited experience, boys did not find me attractive, and there was nothing I thought I could do about it, so I questioned: where could I find hope for the future? At that age I had very limited ideas of what could make me happy. I did not think Jesus had the answer; I started to get very angry with God that he had made me look the way I did. This obsession with my looks caused me to lose a lot of weight, and I became obsessed with dieting. My mum had to step in at one time and tell me as forcefully as she could that I must eat because she could see my rib-cage jutting out from beneath my chest.

In short, I felt very naive, and much rejected in both Christian and non-Christian circles. This came to a head when I was 18 years old and had started an Art Foundation at City College Brighton after completing my A-Levels. By this time the immediate stresses and strains of life had eclipsed my love for Jesus. I met a non-Christian friend who introduced me to drinking and clubbing. To my delight I discovered that the guys at the clubs were interested in me, and 6 months later I was going out with a non-Christian guy.

I believe what really pulled me away from the church at this age was they rejection by Christian guys of my own age and how naive I felt about the ‘world’. I was embarrassed in front of both Christians and non-Christians about just how naive I was. I remember being enthralled with stories of people who had become Christians from violent and druggy backgrounds. My church was very into celebrating people who had escaped such a past. I also believed that Christians who had backslidden and experienced the ‘world’ now had a better testimony to non-Christians, and I believed they were also more respected by Christians.

As such, I had a licence in my own mind, for leaving the church and experiencing as much as I could. I went out with a string of non-Christian guys, and got increasingly into drink and drugs. By the time I was 21, I was taking weed and often alcohol every day, and taking MDMA and Ketamine on the weekends. This mostly took place while I was at university. I believed in once-saved, always-saved, so did not feel that what I was doing effected how God loved me. I did not believe that I was rejecting Christ; I felt more like I was being rebellious, but I still never stopped believing my future would always be as a Christian. I had no desire to not be a Christian. Rather, I wanted my cake, and wanted to eat it. I wanted to be loved by God and do whatever I wanted – and this I thought I could do, because of God’s grace. I knew that throwing caution to the wind and ‘experiencing’ whatever I could was not something that he wanted me to do, but I didn’t think it would have any ultimate effect on me, or my relationship with him. However, I felt so guilty about it that I didn’t really allow myself to think or talk to God for the duration of 2 ½ years.

Life at university through those first two years was hectic. It’s very strange of me to think back to that time now, because I always ask myself: ‘How could you have ever lived like that!?’ I lived in Halls for the first year, and made friends with a group of guys who were known as the ‘druggy lot’; if we were studying in America they would have been called the ‘dope heads’. Anyway, they were a great group of people, intelligent, funny, and smoked weed every day. I’m still friends with some of them now. We would also drink a lot, which for me meant that I often forgot what I had done the night before, as weed and alcohol mixed can increase their effect. With my sensitive, but yet forward, personality that I mentioned earlier, drinking to excess was the worst thing I could do. It would supress my sensitivity, and my forward/confident side would be loosed upon the world. The result was I would do the craziest and outrageous things under the influence and feel absolutely awful about it the next day. This routine happened almost every week for 2 years.

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Me with one of my first, and best, friends at uni

I think a lot of my friends at university were into narcotics because many of them studied Art along with me. Studying Art, I found, gives one the time and reason to take drugs. My friends would often say that it helped them find inspiration for their work.

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Me and my friends at a garden party

In my second year I lived in a house with some friends from halls. I’m very grateful that they were a little less wild than myself, and they provided some form of restraining influence. However, even with the help of my housemates, I still got into increasing trouble and crazy behaviour. I started hanging out with a group of people in Reading who were not students. We called them the ‘K crew’ because they all took a lot of ketamine. At this stage my drug taking increased even more under the influence of friends and associates who were also taking more and more.

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Me and one of my friends I used to get of my face with. It’s nice to know we are still friends, and both love to chat about religion and politics!

By this time a few of my friends at university started to deal drugs, mostly weed. However, a few of them sold whatever they could get their hands on. One in particular got arrested a few times. He was often in contact with the police, and it became quite normal to have the police at the front door, especially when we were throwing parties. I remember that my friend would cook-up ketamine on the stove. You can buy it in liquid form, and use a frying pan to heat it and separate the water from the solution. He would then pack it into 1 gram wraps, and sell them on.

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Me and my friends at a week-long rave

I was doing what I wanted, but as the years passed I increasingly missed ‘home’. I realised that I was only really happy when I was indulging in one substance or another, and started to comprehend the danger I was in. My health had decreased, and I was worried that the amount of substances I was consuming was starting to have permanent effects on my mind.

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Me and a friend at a party in Reading

I came back to the Lord when I met a Christian guy, who was into the hippy scene as much as I was, and could also relate to the lifestyle I had been living. I jumped on the opportunity of a Christian relationship because I felt that was one of the only ways I could start going to church again. I was so entrenched in my life-style and habits that it felt impossible to get out of. As far as I was concerned this was my only chance; I would be able to cushion the church culture-shock with a man who would be by my side. Interestingly, even at this time I still felt proud, in some senses, of the things I had experienced. I visited my old church every now and then. Some of my old Christian friends had done a lot better than me and stayed at church, and done well for themselves. They had grown up and some were even considering getting married. I was still living in the past, trying to prove to them that I was as streetwise as them. I soon realised that they didn’t care at all about my previous experience, they just cared that I was back in church, and sorting my life out. It was quite a humbling experience, to realise that my ideas of status and importance were linked to an outdated and childish outlook.

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Me on top of my friends van

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Me with my dreadlocks at university

Although the Christian relationship didn’t last long, it was long enough to have enabled me to start going to a Church in Reading, where I was living at the time. I had joined a small group, and had started to confide in one of the ladies there. Her name was Frances and she was such a great help. Over the next two years she met with me and helped me giving up smoking and drinking (Which took the best part of two years, and which I still have to watch).

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Me at a party when I was not smoking or doing drugs any more

I had previously thought that coming back to the Lord would be like running home to the Fathers arms, but that is not what it felt like to me. Starting to go to church again after living a completely different life style was difficult. It was like moving to a new country with no friends and no language to communicate. The two years away from the Lord had disabled my ability to relate to whose I called ‘normal people’. I’m grateful to say that my mum and dad were brilliant. There were perhaps the only people that had the depth of relationship with me whom I could turn to, as none of my non-Christian friends could help me, and I had no friends at church. I think I called my mum crying every day for 6 months. It was a very dark time. I remember wanting to know God very passionately, but not being so passionate about church meetings. For the first year and a half I went to church and small group each week out of principle rather than because I could have told you that I ‘felt’ like I wanted to go each week. Usually once I was there I was very encouraged, but it made it hard having to drag myself each Sunday. It was an odd balance. I really wanted to know God, and therefore in principle wanted to go to church. But my previous life situation and the addictions that I was working through made it very difficult. If I were to have followed my feelings alone at this point, I don’t think I would have gone to church quite as often. I am glad that God gave me the motivation to at least go each week, even if it was often grudgingly at first.

But God was there. I can see it much more with hindsight than I could at the time. What is clear is that he changed my heart. I remember not being able to come to the Lord when I was away from him. Even though I felt guilty, I had no desire to return (although I think I would have liked the desire to return). But when I was 21, something changed in my heart and I stared to seek the Lord again. I would listen to preaches and apologetics talks online late into the night lapping them up. My heart also turned violently against the things that I had been previously practicing. I realised the shameful things I was doing was just that: shameful. I did not feel proud about them anymore but realised, with vivid emotion, that they were insulting to God. As God became my first priority again, these things became naturally repulsive.

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Me praying at a Students Union meeting at university

But as I have said above, although I had started to hate the things that I used to do, I still found it very difficult to stop doing them. There was an element of addiction to a lot of what I had done previously, and this had to be worked out. Within the emotional turmoil, I clung to the scriptures. I found that in a time of emotional uncertainty I was able to hold onto what was immovable.

Even though the first year back in the church was very hard, looking back I can see that God was with me. He was not with me in the way that I expected at the time. I believed that he would make me feel good again, but actually that didn’t happen straight away. I spent the first year in a state of depression, while God worked on my addictions. He did provide me with an excellent church, and Christian friends who were able to look past all my failures, and help me. I have already mentioned Frances above, but also her husband Anthony, Ellie Bottrall, a girl a year younger than me and also part of the Art department, was a great help and Dave and Jaz Burt. I wanted to mention all of them because if they ever read this, I want them to know how grateful I am.

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Me at a church Small Group

Once I had detached myself from the old life-style, and old friends, to my horror I heard on the grape vine that the ‘K crew’ were now starting to take Heroin. For those of you that don’t know, even within the druggy community there are many different levels. Weed is considered better to take than alcohol because it is ‘natural’, although the new enhanced weed called ‘skunk’ really isn’t quite as natural as my friends believed. Anyway, the next rung up is Ketamine, Coke, MDMA and pills, which is pretty much where I stayed. Next after that is Acid; and the worst you could possibly do is Crack or Smack, i.e Crack Cocaine and Heroin. I remember thinking I was so glad that I had disassociated myself with that crowd, although I was very sad for them because many of them were lovely people, and I hope now that many of them have been able to make a good life for themselves. As I write this I know that one has died of a Heroin overdose, and I heard rumours that another had turned to prostitution. I pray that God will reveal himself to them.

All in all, I am so grateful to God for helping me come back to the church, where I have been met with such love and understanding. The amount of care that I have received has been overwhelming. I hope that if you are reading this and are thinking of going back to church you will be encouraged to do so, and to keep at it until you find some friends that you can really relate to. Knowing God is the most precious thing in the world, and it is worth pursuing.

Lastly, I have written a piece elsewhere about whether or not I regret my past. So instead of re-churning it out here, you can read it at the link below:

http://whatyouthinkmatters.org/blog/article/should-we-regret

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