My earliest memory of my journey with spirituality started when I was about six. We lived in Singapore and on some Sundays my Dad would drop my little sister and I off at the Sunday School. I suspect that my mum and dad were after a little free time to themselves. My little sister is four years younger than me but I have a vague memory that she and I stayed together.
I remember that we would have these little books in which we got to stick stamps of Jesus in. I really liked the pictures. They were usually related to the stories that they taught us like the Good Samaritan. This was my favourite part of the Sunday School Class. That is probably why it is the only part that I remember.
When I was in the second year infants in Singapore, I was selected to be one of the narrators in the school nativity play. I loved, loved doing this! In those days, I had a incredible memory and I memorized not only my part but also everyone else’s. We have a tape that my dad made that Christmas when my maternal grandparents came out to visit us in Singapore and a lot of the tape has me reciting all of the narration. I still remember a lot of that narration. It feels as familiar as a glove.
I can still remember the wonderful feeling that I used to get every time we rehearsed and when we gave the performance. It wasn’t just the feeling of accomplishment that you get as you put on a play for parents, it was something else that I felt. It felt warm and safe.
In October 1968, we went back to England and after living with my grandparents in Southampton, we moved into our house in Fareham in January 1969. Whilst living with my paternal grandparents, my grandfather taught me how to pray. I used to say this prayer every night before I went to sleep for years.
On my 8th birthday – May 1969 – my friend and I went down Fareham Park Road to a little church down on Gudgeheath Lane. I have just looked this Church up on the internet and it is the Hill Park Baptist Church. I have often wondered which religion it was and suspected that it was either a branch of the Baptist Church or some sort of Pentecostal Church.
I really enjoyed going to this church. I loved to sing the songs about Jesus and to hear the stories from the Bible. I went regularly and even took my little sister along. When I think how old I was and how little my sister was, I marvel at how my mum and dad would let me look after her and walk down Fareham Park Road and take her to church! Not something that I would let my children do when they were small. The world was a much safer place in those days.
I remember the Church giving me and my sister a Christmas present one year. Mine was a circular pink plastic box with a clear lid. Inside were lots of tiny beads of all sorts of different colors for threading. The lid swiveled and a little vent would open up to access the beads. I loved this gift and cherished it for a few years.
After a few months, I was invited to go to their Tuesday night meetings in downtown Fareham. We were always picked up on a coach at Fareham Park Road just outside Coppice Way which drove us down to the hall. I went alone or with my friends. My little sister was too young for this adventure. I went for a little while although I didn’t feel as comfortable in this church service as I did at the Sunday School. I didn’t like the feeling that I had when people ‘spoke in tongues’.
What added to that uncomfortable feeling was the man with one arm. It wasn’t his one arm that frightened me, it was the way that he paid too much attention to me and got into my personal space. After awhile, I told my mum that I didn’t want to go to the Tuesdays meetings anymore and soon after, I stopped going to the church on Sundays. The man was very creepy and I didn’t want to be around him.
Being christened in the Church of England, I took myself off to the Sunday Services at St. Columbia Church at the corner of Hillson Drive and Highlands Road when I was about fourteen. I wish that I could say that it was my spiritual interest that took me there, but it was a good looking boy from school that was in the choir. Just to get a glimpse at this young man entering the church and then singing was enough to get me there each Sunday. Sometimes a friend came with me. She was interested in taking confirmation classes, but I didn’t feel comfortable doing that. I didn’t want that type of commitment. I was familiar with the church service, but I had my own ideas. I didn’t feel that what they taught made sense to me. I didn’t necessarily think it was bad, it just seemed too mysterious and unclear. Spiritually, I felt at an impasse. After about eight months, I stopped attending the services at St. Columbia.
As life got more complicated in my teens and I grew very unhappy and depressed, I prayed often and even branched out from the set prayer that my Grandfather had taught me. I cried out to God to help me, to give me strength and to help me understand the chaos that surrounded me.
Then one day, He found me and I began receiving the answers that I had needed. It was the day that the lady that I babysat for asked my friend and I to keep two young men company at her house …..
During a trip back to Minnesota last year for training on my new job, my trainer whispered conspiratorially, that she thought our manager gave her work, she believed her manager should do. “I’m not the one who has to write the reports”, she said. Earlier in the day, she had spoken to me not so quietly, that the previous payroll person was just awful at the job. “I always had to correct him”, she exclaimed. “He just couldn’t do it. I had to keep telling him the same thing over and over again!” She also told me that the new payroll person, wasn’t picking up the role as quickly as her past experience indicated she could.
I didn’t respond to any of her comments; I should have come back with something a lot stronger than silence; my mind wasn’t so quiet. I knew the previous payroll person; He had left the company because of the way my trainer had treated him for the past eighteen months. She had been demoralizing him and criticizing him constantly; in a state of anguish, he finally resigned. He had told me that he really liked the company and the other people that he worked with, but just couldn’t take any more from our trainer. She had made his life unbearable and caused him so much stress and degradation. I was quite astounded that she would also say something about her manager; I believed they were pretty cozy.
I learned a long time ago when I lived in Climping (outside of Littlehampton in West Sussex) never to believe what another person tells me about someone else. I was serving in a church leadership position and needed to find someone to oversee the homemaking meeting for the ladies at church. I felt inspired to suggest a particular lady’s name; I will call her Lynn although this is not her real name. Lynn accepted the call to serve as the Homemaking Leader and I worked closely with her. When she was called, I was approached several times about Lynn, with people telling me to be careful as she was a terrible gossip and very unreliable. This information did affect my relationship with her at the beginning. However, I learned very quickly that she was not like that. She was such a sweet lady and would do anything for anyone; she also never talked badly about anyone in my presence. After this specific learning experience, I vowed that I would make my own mind up about people and not listen to what others say.
On that trip to Minnesota, I had been working twelve hour days without a break. The day before I flew back home, I took a lunch break for an hour with one of my friends from work, who had been brought into town at the same time. It was nice chatting with her and catching up with each other’s news. When I got back to my desk, I grabbed some papers that I wanted to scan in, so I had access to them when I got back to Utah. Whilst I was at the photocopier, I heard my trainer say to my manager in a surreptitious manner, “She’s back!” That just confirmed to me that the trainer was also talking behind my back, in a derogatory way, as she had done about our manager and the two payroll people.
This behaviour is a good example of duplicity - when a person talks about somebody who isn't present, in a critical and demeaning way - but wouldn’t dream of saying the same things to the person if they were there. It is guaranteed that an individual who exhibits this type of behaviour with you, will be saying things about your weaknesses or other untruths to someone else, when you are not there; this is the opposite of integrity. Having integrity means being loyal to those who are not present. In these types of situations, one should defend those who are absent. When you defend these people, you build trust with them. My husband is a very good example of this. Him and his first wife are divorced but he never says a bad word about her; he never runs her down. I know that he will never talk badly about me to someone else, even if we have had a disagreement.
In an earlier post, I talked about the acronym of ‘HARD’. This stands for:
I spoke about how it was hard for me to be ‘Honest’ and ‘Direct’. I particularly find confrontation and speaking about my feelings difficult. This amounts to dishonesty as I am not being honest due to omission; it also leads to being just like my trainer. I won’t tell the person that I’m upset with them, but I will vent to my husband or a close friend. I do not see much difference between that and the behaviour of my trainer.
I am a great fan of Stephen R. Covey and reading his book ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,’ about sixteen years ago really helped me put all of the pieces of the puzzle together. He says in this book that ‘Integrity includes but goes beyond honest. Honesty is telling the truth - that is to say, conforming our words to reality. Integrity is conforming reality to our words - namely, keeping promises and fulfilling expectations’. He further extrapolated “Integrity also means avoiding any communication that is deceptive, full of guile, or beneath the dignity of people. ‘A lie is any communication with intent to deceive,’ according to one definition of the word. Whether we disseminate with words or behaviour, if we have integrity, our intent cannot be to deceive.” (Pg 195 and 197).
Instead of remaining silent when my trainer was sharing information about my manager and the payroll personnel, there is an alternative choice. Stephen Covey puts it like this: ‘... Suppose you were to start criticizing your supervisor and I basically told you that I agree with the content of some of the criticism and suggest that the two of you go directly to him and make an effective presentation, on how things might be improved. Then how would you know, what I would do, if someone were to criticize you to me behind your back?” This is something for me to seriously consider doing when these circumstances present themselves again. That way I will be ‘honest’ and ‘direct’. This will take great courage but it will help me to be congruent with myself. This is what I need to aim for.
It is easier to take the course of least resistance: to belittle, to criticize, to betray confidences, to gossip about others behind their back. This is also a form of pride. One form of pride manifests itself when one seeks to build oneself up by pulling another down. Belittling, criticizing and gossiping function to knock the person it is aimed at down; at the same time aggrandizing the perpetrator. Pride is really destructive and possessing, it is the means of destroying an individual, a family, and a society. When one is seeking to build oneself up at the expense of another there is no respect for the other person; there is no love. Stepping all over someone to gain respect or success is detrimental and self-sabotaging. How can one trust a person who does this?
The way in which you treat a person says a lot about you. It shows whether you can be trusted or not. What I learned from my parents was to have values and to make choices in my life based on principles. When I interact with any people, I need to do so by maintaining the same set of principles across the board; I wish to be a person who has integrity. There are some cracks in my armour as I have just discussed and my goal is to close up these weaknesses by learning to be honest and direct with those that I associate with. It is a work in progress, but the most important thing is to be moving in the right direction.