What could we learn from Job of Uz?

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Life is just full of experiences that could fill a person with so much suffering. Sickness. Poverty. Death. Depression. We all go through suffering at some point in our lives and we all deal with it differently. What could be a slight scratch for one could be an anguish for another. It is suffering just the same.

In dealing with suffering, would it help to think that life could be half a wreck or somewhat broken already to begin with? Thinking that life is half-broken already, then we come to understand that the chances of both failure or success and happiness or suffering; both exist. When we fail and when we do not meet expectations, others’ or our self-imposed ones; when we experience setbacks, bumps and bruising; then we are prepared to say, “Oh well, that is life and it is what it is.”

These seem like words coming from a mind of person fraught with negative thoughts. We usually resort to an antidote which is the power of positive thinking. I think positive thinking could only get us a mile ahead. Along the way, positive thinking tends to lose its power and the realities that life could be bleak at times, could start to set in. There must be no surprises there when we fail at times. Failures could be painful. We feel the pain but then we learn to move on.

Most of the time, we suffer from our failures immensely. It could be beyond our belief that we are undeserving of failures and that we are all meant to be first, to reach the finish line, to succeed. When we think we are underserving of failures and sufferings, we get tormented even more.

Not succeeding in our health, in our career, in our relationships , in our lives; could throw us off, dissapoint us, hurt us and make us suffer but very often what we consider success is just too much of this world. Whatever it is, of this world; it does not last. It withers, falters or dies.

We all could learn something from Job’s sufferings. He is a righteous man who faced failures and affliction like no other – poverty, sickness and death. He was berated. He lamented his life and how it came to be. He searched for answers and was tormented by his anguish: Is God unjust to allow the suffering of Job who is “blameless and upright”?

Like Job, we can’t escape failures and sufferings. Remember that life can be considered half-broken already to begin with. In life’s finiteness, there is hope in the greatness that awaits us beyond this life. Sufferings that our bodies and minds experience are real but are all, of this world. We look beyond and find meaning to our earthly sufferings by holding on to these words:

“I know my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on this earth . ” Job 19:25

Self-denial and self-love: a balancing act

Dave Canovas

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There are people who are “givers”. They are tireless, always looking out for others’ interests and wellbeing first before their very own. They hardly have time for themselves. They feel guilt when presented with moments when they can’t give any more. Most well-meaning parents are presented with this dilemma especially when balancing work and home life.

There are also people who are “takers”. These people find it hard to forego personal pleasure and interests. They are the impatient tailgaters and honkers during traffic. They “take” every opportunity to be ahead of others. They are constantly comparing themselves with others. They think world resources are dwindling thus feeling the need to accumulate material things while trampling upon others.

While the “giver” is seemingly altruistic, the “taker” lacks consideration for others and whose attitude borders on selfishness.

The giver needs to take a break and nurture self-love while the taker needs to learn self-denial and start making sacrifices for others. How? It is a fine balancing act requiring first, a stroll on the garden called the bible and second, a moment of searching and self-awareness.

We take a stroll in the garden called the bible. In Luke 9:23; we are reminded that “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Jesus Himself is the ultimate example of this pure, self-less, self-denying love for us. What about self-love? In Mark 12:31, it says, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”. This verse never left the aspect of “love for oneself” out in the cold. To a certain degree, we are called to still love ourselves while loving others.

Self-awareness is another key to balancing self-denial and self-love. I have always admired the Maori concepts of wellbeing. It treats a person’s wellbeing as a whole, not as fragmented parts. One’s physical body (Tinana) is strongly related to one’s spiritual (Wairua) and emotional and mental (Hinengaro) wellbeing. These concepts constantly remind me to be more self-aware and for example, to rest when I am exhausted. I have found, time and again, that exerting your body to a helpless breaking point could lead to an emotional boiling point. In Mark 6:31, we are called to “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while. For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.”

In Proverbs 4:23, we are reminded, to keep our heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. For me, it means that we should never be afraid to say “no” when our cup is not full because we can only give when we are not empty. Therefore, we must not feel guilty of ever choosing to refill the cup, to pause, to sip from our own cup of coffee, to be alone, to take a breath, to have a break. We must not feel bad when sometimes, we decide not to give. It is because we just want to make sure that when we decide to give, we are really able to and are doing it freely, willingly and happily.

Self-love, I suppose, must precede self-denial. When you are less forgiving of others, it could be because you are less forgiving of yourself. When you unreasonably expect others to be perfect, it could be because, you yourself make no room for mistakes. When you find it hard to love others, it could be because you find it hard to love yourself. How we are towards others, is a reflection of how we are towards ourselves.

When praying becomes difficult

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I do find praying to be very difficult at times. There are days when I am quite not eager to meet Him. It could be the flesh being weak. It could be because life, at times, I feel is not fair. There are days when I feel like, just slouching.

When praying becomes quite trying, I talk to God expressing how I truly feel at that moment. Tired. Desperate. Sad. Reluctant. I am never afraid to ask, “God I find it difficult to connect with You now. Where are you?”.

Can it be that my pained wondering in that moment, is prayer in itself?

When I am truthful, I find more meaning in my prayer. There is absolutely no point in me sugarcoating it – God knows and understands me well. I know I can’t hide anything from Him, even my deep-seated emotions.

During lockdown last year, I wrote a children’s book called, “God our Father, Are You Divorcing Me Too?”. In the book, a child expresses his heartbreak over news of his parents’ divorce. He describes his anger, despair and sadness using imageries such as a volcano erupting, a grazing of his knee or a lamb which is lost. The book reminds me of what prayer should be like.

Prayer should be a baring of one’s soul; a no-holds-barred, unrehearsed conversation with God. He knows our struggles and He never looks at our misgivings or doubts but always looks forward to every conversation we have with Him.

Excessive complaining and how it could ail our souls

When we grumble a lot, we become arrogant people thinking we deserve better more than what God has provided us and blessed us, with. When we complain a lot, we rely on our own understanding and deny the great wisdom that is of God’s.

Over breakfast, my elder daughter, looking anxious, blurted out she had a dream that it was the start of school. “That was not a dream, that was a nightmare!”, whinged my younger one.

That is so true for many of us. Depending on which part of the world we are from, Christmas is season of joy, especially if we have that two-week break and luckier, if we have a month-long one. Coming from this long hiatus, we dread going back to the normalcy of work.

I am not going to lie but I do share my daughters’ sentiments . Sometimes, I succumb to grumbling, myself. The only difference is that I do not speak it loud. I hid it in the innermost part of me, challenge that whinging sign of discontent and later, quell it. I ask myself, “what difference is complaining going to make?”. Halting the thought of discontent, thoughts grumbling become mere clouds hovering above me, passing before my eyes, and moving until it no longer matters and words of complaint, no longer spoken.

Whinging, grumbling, moaning, “reklamo (Filipino term)” or complaining, has sadly been, becoming a culture. A habit. A really bad, bad, bad habit. Like Thor hammering it away, I usually find myself gathering enough strength and momentum to break that habit, myself.

Complaining a lot, we do not realise, could be a sign of things that could be ailing our souls.

When we grumble and express discontent over our supposed blessings (i.e. our job, roof on our heads, food on our table), we declare that we deserve better – a better job, better looks, better house, better spouse, steak rather than fish, I-phone 12 over its countless predecessors. We yearn to be in some other place rather than we we are. On a couch. On a holiday cruise. In a restaurant. When we grumble a lot, we become arrogant people thinking we deserve better more than what God has provided us and blessed us, with. When we complain a lot, we rely on our own understanding and deny the great wisdom that is of God’s.

Grumbling and feeling we deserve better, is subtly, pride. In Proverbs 16:5, we are reminded not to be arrogant and proud:

Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the Lord; be assured, he will not go unpunished.

Excessive complaining, is lack of trust, lurking in the dark. Jesus spoke about trust in John 14:1:

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.”

If we are truly who we say we are, believers and practitioners of God’s divine wisdom, then we must keep our grumbling and complaining at bay and under control, if not fully extinguished.

I can only imagine how excessive complaining could lead us to the worst and how it could consume and turn us to sinful arrogance, pride, sloth and greed. I, myself, will stomp on the habit of complaining even before it gets up my easily-swayed brain. How about you?

How COVID-19 has brought new light to what “church” means to me

Dave Canovas

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Let’s go to church. Let’s go inside our hearts and open it up to the Holy Trinity. Let’s go to church, that is inside us, and make it a living example of helping others. Let our lips be the bearer of loving and kind words. No hatred, no pride, no arrogance, just kind and loving words. Let our eyes look at others not with condescension but with encouragement and compassion. Let our bodies, our church, speak of actions trumpeting Christ’s love.

The mention of “Let’s go to church” paints a picture of a family on a Sunday morning, going through the whole routine of getting dressed, driving a car, strenuously looking for a parking space and miraculously finding one. Then off the car and stands the church, beautiful and towering.

For the longest time that church, a towering structure, has been a symbol of refuge, hope and prayer for me. COVID 19, however, has some far-reaching effect on how I look at church now. Church, the structure, is still a beacon of light for me but somehow, the pandemic has brought another form of light in my life. It is not a floodlight and it is neither a blinding sunlight. The church I now know is a place, a candlelit place so subtle, warm and sometimes flickering but still holds up mightily, bringing light into this darkness.

Pre-pandemic, I was content with the idea of going to church, the building. Then the most unexpected and most unwelcome visitor came. That visitor brought lockdowns, deaths, anxiety, grief, job loss, fear. It has isolated people literally, in quarantine. I never thought, I would be reading stories to children via the screen of a gadget. Who would have thought that “going” to work in pyjamas would be a thing? It has brought tremendous anxiety to me and it still does, up to this moment.

During the pandemic, was born our altar at home, a more permanent one. Pre-pandemic, our altar seemed to have moved a lot, in the corner there, next to the TV here, in the middle or on the side – it was everywhere! It was during this very trying times that I have realised the importance of prayer and that the home must predispose me, my wife and my children, to it. Calming music in the background, candles, images – all completed the altar. We pray more now than ever.

Our altar

Our family was no stranger to tragedy during the pandemic year. When our family needed to grieve and seek comfort from each other, it was extremely difficult. Our sadness was made even worse by restrictions of border control and physical distancing.

When weak, when desperate, when sad, when feeling alone, I say, let’s go to church. It is that candlelit church, I spoke about earlier. It is the candlelit church inside me, inside my family, inside you, inside all of us. In 1 Corinthians 3:9, it is said:

For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.

Let’s go to church. Let’s go inside our hearts and open it up to the Holy Trinity. Let’s go to church, that is inside us, and make it a living example of helping others. Let our lips be the bearer of loving and kind words. No hatred, no pride, no arrogance, just kind and loving words. Let our eyes look at others not with condescension but with encouragement and compassion. Let our bodies, our church, speak of actions trumpeting Christ’s love.

Let’s go to church. Let’s go to each other and find that light in each other. Remember, we are stronger and brighter together.

I say, Amen, to going to church together and let no border control and physical distancing come between us, the community of believers.

What does God say about our self-image?

Dave Canovas

It is very natural for human beings to need to belong or to be recognised but with billions of people in the world, who would actually want see you? You have BTS to contend with, brother.

The image of a child, a principle based on Reggio Emilia philosophy of teaching, is a concept that I live by when I am at kindergarten. In a nutshell, if your image of children, is that they are competent, strong or full of potential, then the way you teach them, will be based on what your image of them is. For example, if your image of children is that they are able, then you would let them change their clothes themselves when they get wet from water play, because as a teacher, you believe they could do it. For me, it does not matter if they have worn their shirt inside out. At least they did it themselves (Proud of you mate!). No offence to Filipino mums, but I have seen countless examples of them “rescuing” children in the times of need. Spoon-feeding, changing their children’s clothes, preparing their bags for school – all done by a parent, mostly, by mums. If you are a forty-something like me, you must have experienced the dabs of Johnson’s baby powder on your backs after play. Do Filipino mums still put Johnson’s baby powder on their children’s sweaty backs nowadays?

When children for a long time, are seen as able and powerful and allowed to act as such, then their self-image or the way they see themselves, becomes that – powerful and able. This begs the question – as adults, what is our self-image?

I have only been with Facebook, for literally, less than two weeks and man, the thought of people who might have seen my posts, the ones who clicked their like buttons or left a heart emoji, I must say, is quite intriguing. Well, I would eventually try to snap out of it as I have set the bar very low this time around that to be “successful” with my blog, I need to connect to at least ONE soul.

In this age, the number of “likes” we get, how we look, how much we have or don’t have, could sadly, cloud how we view ourselves.

It is very natural for human beings to need to belong or to be recognised but with billions of people in the world, who would actually want to see you? You have BTS to contend with, brother. I am highlighting what I believe in, that no matter how hard we try, there is someone out there, who will be more recognised, more seen, more popular, more handsome, more beautiful, richer and better at what we do. No matter how hard we try to garner the “likes” we aim for, we could still end up feeling unsatisfied, lonely and desperate. It is going to be an endless battle, that sadly, we could not win.

There is one practice that helps me improve my self-image and it is making me win life. On the wall, next to our altar is a wooden cross with words etched on it. It says: LOVED. It seems to me that thinking I am loved, I start feeling it. It brings me to my own personal memories in the past when God has been very faithful to me, never abandoning me. It brings me to the present when blessings are abound. My self-image that I am loved, just allows to be also hopeful and not to be fearful of the future. From Psalm 139:13-4, it says:

For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.

Indeed, we are made to perfection. God loves us so much that He made us perfect in His eyes. We sin and God sees us the same way as when He first created us.

If our self-image is that we are loved, then, we tend to love others by being giving and being more forgiving. We love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). So the next moment you start feeling down, alone and unworthy then halt that thought! Because you are LOVED and that should remain our self-image for as long as we live.

Fear and its snowball effect

Dave Canovas

Don’t we all all have that kind of fear? Before we could even begin something, our thoughts start to take us miles and miles forward. What if it was a mistake? What if I failed? Am I good enough to do it? What if this relationship could not be repaired?

My FIRST thought when I wake up in the morning has always been very critical in how my day will be like. If it were a nightmare that woke me up, I would try to counter it with a prayer and very deep breaths because I don’t want my day to be that – a nightmare!

At kindy, a child’s first attempt on a monkey bar could be daunting. “I CAN’T do it”, they would often say. A believer that the FIRST step is always a GREAT step, I usually encourage a child just to try that FIRST steel bar and WE could do the rest, in the next minute or the next day. I have highlighted “we” because, it is important for children to know that they are supported every step of the way, that I, an adult they trust, would catch them when they fall, well quite literally. Usually, that strategy works because, in that sense, they do not have to worry yet about the second, third or fourth steel bar which to a child, could be overwhelming. Add to it the thought, of falling into a “black hole”. Quite scary, isn’t it?. The following is an illustration I have conceptualised with Filipino illustrator, JJ Duran, just to depict the idea of children conquering their fears.

Don’t we all all have that kind of fear? Before we could even begin something, our thoughts start to take us miles and miles forward. What if it was a mistake? What if I failed? Am I good enough to do it? What if this relationship could not be repaired? A stream of thoughts come rushing in. All these and we give up even before we could start a business venture, have a shot at promotion at work, have that opportunity to talk at a church event or an opportunity to change our sinful ways.

When this happens, we basically give up our shot at LIFE full of God’s blessings. We give up our sacred chance to use our gifts to heal others, to establish our own company, to sing solo or in a choir, to speak, to write, to repair what is broken (i.e. relationship or a chair) or to love. Yes, some people are quite afraid to love, in a romantic sense, or otherwise. That is our fear snowballing into negative, I-can’t-do-it, thoughts. Don’t worry because we can always find our way out of FEAR.

The key is for us to take that FIRST step. This is why I shared earlier how important that FIRST thought of the day for me is. I always try to make my first thought of the day to be a PRAYER of GRATITUDE. That is the power of the mind. If thoughts of tasks that I need to see done, comes streaming into my sleepy head, I reject it. Oops..I say to myself that I am not ready for that overwhelming to-do list, yet. Right now, right here on our bed, is me thanking God that I could still feel my legs and my arms and that I am still awake and very much alive.

2 Timothy 1:7 reminds us that we can do it “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control”. Having taken that first step without fear of the future, without any self-doubt, always, we are taken to the second one, the third one and eventually, somewhere else, very far, with our mighty God on our side.

Just how fear could snowball into disaster, our first thoughts of gratitude, faith, hope or love, could shatter lies that FEAR puts into our heads.

Martha, Mary and the caterpillar room

Dave Canovas

When we are like Martha, we often tend to feel that time is running out. We often feel that life becomes an emergency situation. In that sense, we tend to miss out what really matters in a particular moment.

Humour does have a place in the kindergarten where I work. When things get very busy, and I mean, really busy, we certainly know how to roll with it. Imagine a room full of thirty children or so, with varying needs to explore, need to be heard or to be looked after physically (i.e. toileting) or the need to sit next to a teacher for an emotional coaching. I think I have heard “He hit me first!” stories a million times now. Sometimes, I admit, it feels like I am in the “caterpillar room”, I would often say jokingly, to one of my co-teachers. This is just to lighten up our moods. If you have seen Toy Story 3, then certainly, you would know what I mean. If not, just imagine children, turning the room upside down.

You might ask what strategies we use as teachers when everything seems to be out of control and when we seem not to know what to prioritise. At any given moment, there could be a child needing help with pooping or a child asking for help because his feelings were hurt. Apparently, the latter’s friend is not “inviting him to his party anymore”. Ouch! The problem is, I am not even sure if there even, was a party!

There is not one right strategy that could work across different scenarios, I must tell you. Even teachers disagree most of the time and we are just at peace with the thought that we can all agree to disagree.

What I am about to tell you, though, is a strategy that has worked for me most of the time – it always does the trick for me 99.99% of the time.

“Breathe, calm down, sit”. This is a strategy that I encourage, not the children to do, but myself to do first. Of course, it is a different story, when children’s safety is at risk. You have to be alert and quick. Definitely, sitting down while being aware that a child is about to fall from certain height, is never going to work in this scenario.

What this strategy of breathing, calming and sitting down, does is that it grounds you as a teacher. It allows you to observe more, to listen more and to be aware, more. It allows children to see you more, as that figure they could go to, that figure who looks calm and composed and as that figure who says nothing, but is aware of what is happening. Whenever I am in that “caterpillar room” sitting down, not looking bored though, but still looking interested with my lips arching upwards smiling; it always seem to be an invitation for children. It is me saying with my sitting, open posture; “Come sit with me”. Oftentimes, that moment could turn out to be a spontaneous storytelling session. I did not even have to yell on top of my lungs, “STOP YOU ALL. LET’S READ A STORY!” It could also even turn out to be just happy conversations about what happened the previous weekend. Imagine me on a couch with three or four children just exchanging conversations. Such is an important part of a child’s learning – for them to know when to take a break from their very restless lives.

What could work for me at work, I apply it to my personal life. That could also be the other way around. When things get really uncontrollably busy in my personal life, a lot of times, silence is key for me. This allows me to be more mindful. I notice, I become more vulnerable to discontent, to confusion, physical tiredness and sometimes, anger when I face busyness with an unrelaxed body, loud mouth and busy mind.

You might be familiar with the Gospel of Luke about Martha and Mary where Martha felt so inundated by the preparations for Jesus and his disciples’ visit. When we are like Martha, we often tend to feel that time is running out. We often feel that life becomes an emergency situation. In that sense, we tend to miss out what really matters in a particular moment. Most of the time, what matters in a particular moment is right before our eyes; a son whose hand you need to hold, your mum needing a hug, or just being there on a couch holding your wife’s hand.

We only realise the beauty of what we have by taking moments of breathing, of calming down, of silence. Silence is not boredom. It is such a grounding experience which brings clarity to our very, very busy life. Often, silence brings us down to prayer.

God is constant across all generations.

Pain and loss, unfortunately, could not skip a generation and it certainly, is not skipping this one. In all these, it is God’s spirit which remains constant.

Taken from the book “God Our Father, Are You Divorcing Me, Too?” which I wrote, is one of the beautiful illustrations by Filipino illustrator, JJ Duran. 

The picture seems like a picture of surrendering, of defeat. Different generations have seen defeat or loss in massive ways. I am not going to compare it with world wars or the Spanish flu of the past generations because I can only imagine the pain experienced by people who lived in that era, but COVID 19 has been causing so much solitude, loss and tremendous anxiety for people of this present generation. Factor in our own very personal pains from loss of jobs or broken relationships and you have a very bleak picture in your head.

This picture takes me back to the spirit of God, though. We are born with that spirit. It lives in us. I think we need not even ask God for strength because I always say God, himself is strength. I know it because, no matter how hard I find it to get up in the morning, I always say, “God you are in me.” and there goes my feet off to the world. Pain and loss, unfortunately, could not skip a generation and it certainly, is not skipping this one. In all these, it is God’s spirit which remains constant. He was there in the past; He will be in the future and He is in the present. He is now in the fighter in each and everyone of us.