Saturday, 10 February 2018
Tuesday, 2 January 2018
In these moments, I try to remain calm and repeat quietly that I want to help; that there is nothing wrong with needing help; that it isn't possible to go through life without relying on other people. But occasionally - especially when what Sarah is attempting to do is impossible for any 2 year old no matter how determined - I find myself wanting to shout right back into her red, angry, little face. Just let me help you. I want to help you.
But. No. Sarah do it herself.
In one such moment a couple of weeks ago, I felt the gentle (rather violent) nudge of the Holy Spirit. Ehem. This is just how I feel. I want to help you. Just let me help you.
But. No. Nic do it herself.
This morning was a case in point. Last night I left my coat in the boot of the car. In the pocket of my coat was my house keys and the car keys. And so, this morning, just after announcing to both my girls that we were off to the library I realised that everything we needed to do that (pram, sling, coats, changing bag) was in the boot of the car along with what was needed to open the boot of the car. Life fail. Not only were these things necessary for a now-postponed library trip, but they were also pretty necessary to just get through the rest of the day with two under two - especially because, by this point, the youngest had been crying intermittently for an hour. It wasn't long before Sarah and I joined her.
The day was not going well.
But. Nic do it herself. And so, instead of thinking about how I might ask someone else to help me in this slightly ludicrous situation I summoned up all reserves of gumption and determined that it was going to be fine: we could definitely get ourselves (admittedly kicking and screaming) through the day without any help from anyone else. Thank you very much.
A few minutes later I spoke to my husband on the phone, who had his key and therefore the needed mechanism to get into the car and resolve all problems, who calmly, and simply, suggested that one of our many friends could drive to his work (only 5 minutes away) and pick up the key to give to me. Such is my obsession with self-sufficiency (I wonder where my toddler gets it from) that this very simple plan had not even occurred to me. Nic do it herself, remember?
There is something deep within me that is terrified of asking for help. Some fear of losing face, of admitting that, actually, things are a bit tough and I could do with an extra pair of hands, of allowing myself to acknowledge that, perhaps, I am not coping as well as I might. I don't think I am the only one who thinks this way.
And the problem is that such a way of thinking is kind of antithetical to a faith that is built on trusting. That is built upon the foundation of dependence, of admitting that I need help, that I cannot do this life on my own and was never meant to. Our society idolises Independence and self-sufficiency.
My friend Taryn - a beautiful singer-songwriter - puts in rather wonderfully in one of her songs.
Oh, my soul, get over yourself
Let it go, admit that you don't have it all together
Cast your burden over a cliff
Let your fists unclench, your heart beat light as a feather
Light as a feather
I'm leaning, oh, I'm leaning on you
Leaning, oh, my striving days are through
Looks like I'll be leaning for a while
Yeah this independence has gone out of style.
And so as I aim to teach my daughter that self-sufficiency ain't all it's cracked up to be, I shall try and learn that lesson for myself: Nic, ask for help because He wants to help you; He is waiting to help you.
This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says:
“In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength,
but you would have none of it..."
Thursday, 31 August 2017
if you have nothing to give
if your soul is worn out, worn thin, worn down
by a life that just keeps throwing stuff at you and won’t let up.
If you are depressed and anxious, tired and fed up,
sustained by pills and bottles, envy, regret and trashy daytime TV.
If you have had enough of the way things are
and cannot summon up the strength to get out of bed
let alone go on
if you are sad today without knowing why.
If you are mourning, bereaved, or grieving
If you carry the pain of miscarriage, of abortion, of betrayal, of loneliness
of friends who promised they would be there but are nowhere to be found.
if you are at the bottom of the pile.
If you are oppressed and downtrodden, unliked and unnoticed,
if the system is against you and your cause is crushed.
If you are powerless and helpless, held down by those too strong for you,
if politicians and the media conspire against you, forcing you further down
into poverty and disillusion
if you are hungry for justice, starving for the answers,
longing for the trial that will put things right,
if no one believed you when you told them what he – she – they did.
If you ache for, thirst for, long for equality
and a world in which good beats evil, and right beats wrong
in which justice is not determined by the fatness of your wallet.
If you believe that it must be possible for it to be better than this
fairer than this,
if you hate the bitter taste of corruption that taints the news
and the pompous, prig smiles of those who think they’ve got away with it
if you forgive others
if you choose to exercise compassion again and again and again
if people think you’re stupid and a doormat, a pushover and a mug
because you keep showing grace, keep showing love, keep saying it’s alright
even when it hurts like hell and this isn’t the last time.
If you don’t hold people’s mistakes against them
if you hold lightly to each insult, each offence, each slight
thrown unwillingly, or on purpose
if you show mercy to all – those who deserve it and those who don’t
if your heart is pure, and your motives are right
if you avoid Facebook gossip and Instagram envy
if you don’t give in to peer pressure and dare to be different
defining yourself by who you truly are, not what others say
if you steer clear of what could degrade yourself
if you set your mind on things above and not on earthly things
longing for what is noble, what is true, what is right, what is lovely
instead of what culture tells you is the lastest fad designed to satisfy your soul
for you will meet the King face to face.
if you hope for, long for, yearn for peace
and vote for policies not personalities.
If you don’t stir up trouble in pursuit of a bit of drama
that might make your life more entertaining.
If you stand against war and bloodshed, bombs and weapons
loving your enemy rather than seeking to wipe them out
choosing the way of non-violence whatever the cost.
If you say sorry first and make amends
sacrificing the need to win for sake of peace.
If you reconcile, negotiate, communicate between foes
(even if it makes no difference)
for you are a child of the King.
when you are shouted at and talked down to
the object of scorn and sneers because of what you stand for
when you are belittled and made to feel stupid for daring to have faith
for daring to trust that there is a king, and he has a kingdom
that the kingdom is coming and is already here
because you belong in this kingdom
you belong to this king.
Saturday, 5 August 2017
I got bored before she did.
Monday, 17 July 2017
I don't think Dillard means that we need protection from an angry, lightning-bolt wielding God who might zap us unsuspectingly at any given moment; I think she has simply observed the gap between the the way that God is revealed in the bible - and for her in the wildness of nature - and the way that we tend to bind Him into little churchy boxes that we'd rather not scrutinise too closely, thank you very much. We have sanitised God. We have tamed his wildness to make him more comfortable.*
A few years ago, one of the young people I was mentoring had a lot of questions about faith. As I tried to give her some answers I realised she thought Jesus was boring. And I realised that part of that was probably my fault. We, the church, are notoriously good at misrepresenting Jesus, at taking away his wild beauty, his abounding love and faithfulness, his humour, his bluntness, his fierce concern for social justice. And stripped of all that, we end up with, at best, a rather limp Messiah. At worst, a Messiah who is judgmental, hypocritical and unloving.
This morning, I listened to a sermon where the preacher spoke about the call on the lives of those following Jesus to carry his name, to represent his identity to the world around them. The sermon was based on the part of the Old Testament where God reveals his goodness to Moses by declaring his name, by telling him who he is and what he's like:
Monday, 6 February 2017
The bible is full of the command to celebrate, to praise, to recount and remember all that God has done. I am not very good at this. And more often than not God’s instructions to give joyful thanks feel pretty burdensome, and obligatory. Thanksgiving becomes at best a habit, and at worse a chore. But, God does not desire thanksgiving from His people to booster his ego; thanksgiving is not just another rule to be followed: the art of thanksgiving is His remedy to us. Gratitude is his gift to remedy our natural instinct to complain, to begrudge circumstances, to stare longingly at the grass that we think is greener.
In recent days (and probably weeks) I have felt myself become a bit of a moaner. There is certainly quite a lot to moan about in the world of global politics, and whilst God calls us to lament what is unjust and painful in our broken world and stand alongside those who are wounded by decisions made by the powers that be, moaning is not the same thing. There is a beautiful kind of discontent with the world as is that inspires us to change it; there is an ugly discontent that traps us in own our selfishness. The discontent that resents others’ success and achievements, that criticises but refuses to acknowledge any good, that delights in complaining for the sake of it. It is this discontent that God would save us from.
In the story of Israel, God knows what His people are like. He knows that they will be quick to forget what is good, and what they have got, and even quicker to start complaining. In the account of the Exodus he introduces the Israelites to the ritual of Passover, and calls it a “lasting ordinance.” (Exodus 12:14) This special meal is not to be just a one off affair but a yearly practice, a way of remembering their incredible rescue from Egypt and God’s goodness towards them. Each year, they are to tell the story. They are to practice remembering; it is remembrance that leads them to thanksgiving: to realising once more the goodness of the God who has redeemed them from slavery.
After their miraculous escape from tyranny and oppression, the Israelites last only three days before the grumbling starts. (Exodus 15:22-27) In the same chapter that recounts the joyful celebrations of God’s rescued people, we get the first incidence of complaint. Israel have a serious short term memory problem. They have just witnessed first-hand the saving power of the God who loves them, but they are already starting to forget what this God is like. They are already starting to forget that he is a provider and a rescuer. They are already starting to doubt his character.
This is the story of the Old Testament. It is the story of the people who God loves and their failure to remember what He is like. Time and time again, God intervenes into the lives of His people. He rescues them and delivers them, he cares for them and provides for them, but time and time again, they forget. In Jeremiah God concludes simply that His people have “forgotten him.” (Jeremiah 2:32) They have made their contentment dependant on circumstances, not on their relationship with the One who loves them.
We live in a culture that specialises in discontentment. Advertising is a successful business because it taps deep down into the desire that we have for more than what we have: a different job, hairstyle, holiday destination, Facebook profile picture, circle of friends, set of achievements, piece of technology. We are masters of dissatisfaction. And thanksgiving is our God-given antidote. When John the Baptist breaks onto the pages of history announcing the imminent arrival of God’s kingdom, he reminds people what life lived with God looks like. He is, in a way, jogging their memories, dusting off the long-lost dreams of a society that is satisfied with life as is because that life is lived with God. “Be content,” he says. Be content with your pay, and your possessions, with what you have. (Luke 3:10-14)
In today’s world, this is radical, counter-cultural advice. And it is the advice that my soul needs this morning. It is the advice that would rescue me from moaning. Today, we are called to recount and remember the goodness of God, to tell one another stories of what God has done, to be actively thankful for all that we have. As my daughter grows up into a world that loves to complain, I long to teach her to be a child who is content. A child who knows how to be thankful, how to rejoice, how to share stories full of gladness and goodness and wonder. And if she is to learn that, then I had better start doing it as well. So, come on Soul, forget not his benefits. (Psalm 103:2)
Thursday, 27 October 2016
I love this expression. It is a turn of phrase used by Jean Vanier to help explain our role in nourishing of others: “We become bread for each other because God became bread for us.”
As I mentioned in my last post, one of the dangers of too much time and space is pre-occupation. I do not think I am alone in being susceptible to this. It is the disease of the wealthy, western world where we can - all too often - use our time and space to indulge ourselves, and our anxieties. In his novel, The Year of the Runaways, one of Sahota's protagonists, Avtar, reflects on the tendancy of the rich to over-think. He is an illegal immigrant from India living day to day in fear of police raids, hunger and the loan sharks who threaten his family back home, and he is exasperated with a wealthy British Indian professor who offers to help him, but seems to spend most of his time bemoaning his existence: "[Avtar] gave in to his anger. What decadence this belonging rubbish was, what time the rich must have if they could sit around and weave great worries out of such threadbare things."
He is right. We worry about everything. And nothing. Tiny, little issues gnaw away at us. We over-reflect. Over-analyse. Replay conversations. Reconstruct past events and wonder - painfully - what we should have, could have done or said differently. I realise that I am particularly prone to such behaviour. I am a chronic over-thinker. But I am not the only one (I hope)
What I love about Vanier's writing is that he does not deny the need for us to deal with our own issues: we need to face our anxieties and our fears. We need to examine our hearts and minds. We need to think. And the need to 'belong' is certainly not rubbish. It is at the core of our being in a way that cannot be ignored. But we can obsess, and wallow, over such things to the detriment of our ourselves and others. We can spent too long lamenting what we do not have instead of appreciating what we do. And sometimes it is only by being with one another that we can start to make sense of ourselves. We make more sense in community. More than that: we make more sense when we are giving of ourselves to others. This, I think, is the essence of what Jesus means when he says, it is better to give than to receive. He is not just talking about material possessions - although he does have a point there - he is talking about what we do with our time and energy, our encouragements and thought processes. It is in the giving away of ourselves that we flourish; it is in the giving away of ourselves that we draw closer to God as we see the face of Christ one another. (Matthew 25:45)
An unnamed co-worker of Mother Teresa in a book of her meditations puts this rather more bluntly: "Lord, I have found you in the terrible magnitude of the suffering of others. I have seen you in the sublime acceptance and unaccountable joy of those whose lives are racked with pain and I have heard your voice in the words of those whose personal agony mysteriously increases their selfless concern for other people. But in my own niggling aches and petty sorrows I have failed to find you. I have lost the drama of your great redemptive passion, in my own mundane weariness and the joyful life of Easter is submerged in the drabness of self-preoccupation."
Ouch. This is a little damning. But it is also a little too close to home. Niggling aches. Petty sorrows. Selfishness. Pre-occupation. I am not disputing that there are times when it is necessary for us to pay close attention to how we feel and think. I am also not disputing that anxiety and depression are very real things that need to be understood more than they are, and responded to with more compassion than they are. But - and this is perhaps a but for me more than anyone else - we can miss out of some of the glorious goodness of God and his purposes for us, if we do not turn away from ourselves and towards one another. We see God, and ourselves, more clearly when we are in the business of nourishing others. As we nourish, we too are nourished, and we enable others to become nourishment.
We do not do this, and cannot do this, without God. At least not in a sustainable way. When Jesus feeds the five thousand - when he provides nourishment for those in need of it - he does four things. He takes the bread, he blesses the bread, he breaks the bread and he gives the bread away. (Matthew 14:19) So too with us. God takes us. In all our brokenness and beauty, our mistakes and excuses, our shortcomings and successes. We give ourselves to Him and he blesses us. He fills us with Himself (Colossians 2:9-10). We are equipped and enabled by His Spirit. And then we are broken. Not as we once were by our own doing, but broken by him, broken out of our selfishness and pride, our selfcentredness and isolation, broken that we might be given away. Our lives become sacrament. We become bread.