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Saturday, 10 February 2018

The Father's Sadness


For the past few weeks, I have lamented the loss of intimacy in my relationship with Jesus. I have been starved of conversation with him and yet, incapable and – if I’m honest – unwilling, to do anything that might change that.

This week I ended up in a teary puddle on the floor after waging a war of wills with my toddler. In that place of desperation, Jesus spoke. Or, perhaps more accurately, I was forced into a place where I could hear him speaking.

Sarah has hit the terrible twos with a vengeance. She is brilliant. Remarkably bright, funny, thoughtful, compassionate. But with the iron stubbornness of a donkey. I doubt it is possible to meet a more will-full toddler. Unless, of course, you knew me as a child. It had been a week of tantrums and, on Wednesday, it all came to a head in my attempt to put her down for a nap. I’d been wrestling with something flu-ish all week and was definitely not at the top of my parenting game, but her outright defiance and mean spiritedness floored me (metaphorically and literally) and we both ended up in an angry, crying heap on her bedroom floor.

Sarah had been screaming at the top of her lungs for over half an hour but when I cried she suddenly stopped, came over, looked directly at me and said, Mummy, you sad? It took a serious amount of will power not to throw a sarcastic comment back in her little, scrunched up face, but instead I nodded and we sat together for a while being sad. And, as we did, God spoke. This is what I feel like. This is what sin makes me feel.

A few minutes later, with Sarah now sleeping, I came downstairs and ended up in another teary mess. When Sarah doesn’t listen to me, the jumble of emotions is difficult to disentangle: I am cross at her defiance, frustrated by my failure to implement a successful parenting strategy but, most of all, I am sad. I am sad that we’re not friends. I am sad that our relationship deteriorates so quickly. I am sad that we both say, and feel things, about the other that aren’t true. I am sad that she stops looking at me as her mother and sees me as some kind of opponent. My insides feel red, and raw and bruised, like someone is squeezing the life out of some organs, or turning my skin inside out. The grief and anger is physical.

And this is how God feels.

All. The. Time.

On a cosmic scale, God is sad. He is saddened by the fractured relationship between Him and his children, by the faces of children that no longer view him as a loving father but as an opponent. As someone to be resisted and ignored, to be defied and shunned. Parenting is emotional business, but the depth of my emotions is nothing compared to that of God the Father.  

But, not only is God’s sadness so much greater than mine, it is purer too. In parenting my children, my motives are skewed. I like to think that my parenting of them is intended for their good (and, in the most part, it sincerely is) but there is something else going on too: when Sarah defies me – especially if that defiance happens to be in public – my response to her is for her good (I want to discipline her well and put good boundaries in place so that she grows up to be the kind of person who accepts responsibility for her actions) but it is also about what I perceive to be good for me: I don’t want to lose face. I don’t want to be embarrassed by my daughter. I want others to think that I have this parenting malarkey nailed. There is a muddying of motive that means that, hard as I try, I make the wrong parenting decisions. I respond in the wrong way.

God is not like this. He is perfectly pure. In his parenting of us, He always acts for our flourishing. The boundaries that God puts in place are not there to satisfy him, or to make Him look good; they are there for us; they are there to ensure that we become the people we are intended to be, that we live the life that is fully life 91 Timothy 6:19) in communion with others and the planet.

As I sat on the floor of my living room, still sad because of Sarah, but now also sad because I felt like God had given me a taste of his own sadness, the sorrow that he carries when his children opt out of relationship with him, I told Him that I didn’t have what was necessary to be Sarah’s Mum – that I couldn’t parent her in the way that she needed, that I couldn’t guarantee that my choices and decisions were always going to be for her good. And, again, God spoke and he said two things. Firstly, that he made me to be Sarah’s Mum, and, secondly, that I was equipped for the job.  

In that moment I was reassured by the first, but unsure of the second. I had never felt less equipped to be Sarah’s mum. God directed me to 2 Peter 1:3-4. “His divine power has given us everything we need for a Godly life through our knowledge of Him who called us through his own goodness and glory. Through these he has given us His very great and precious promises so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.”

And the word that caught my attention was “knowledge.” The way to get what I need, the way to be equipped is to know the one who equips. I do not have what is necessary to be a mum in and of myself but I know the one who does. I am not enough. He is. My natural tendency, in moments like Wednesday, is to wallow in my own inadequacy. To lament my parenting failures. To resolve to do better next time. But that is the wrong approach. I am more inadequate than I think I am. My heart and motives are more skewed than I think they are. (Jeremiah 17:9) And whilst that seems pretty good cause to wallow, it will get me nowhere. Instead God tells me to look at him. To look at his goodness and his glory. To look at the tender, beautiful perfection of his parenting. And to embrace the reality that he has joined me to himself.

In the Greek, the word for “participate” in verse 4 means one who mutually belongs or shares in something. I am a shareholder in the perfect parenting resources of the heavenly Father. Everything that the Father has he shares with me. (Luke 15:31) But access to such a gift comes only through looking to Him rather than to myself. Through knowing, and trusting, that he is acting for my good, and the good of my children, even when I don't. 



Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Sarah do it herself

I hear these words several hundred times every day. They are my toddler's absolute favourite sentence, and sentiment. She is beautifully, terrifyingly independent and refuses help at anything and everything - things she could perhaps do on her own and things she definitely can't. There is something wonderfully endearing about her perseverance, but I am also endlessly frustrated by it. Sometimes, Sarah is so cross at her inability to do something that she grits her teeth and screams at the top of her lungs. And no amount of offering by me to intervene in the situation will do.

Sarah do it herself.

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.

Jesus doesn't.

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..."
Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you...
How gracious he will be when you cry for help! 
As soon as he hears, he will answer you. (Isaiah 30:15, 18, 19)

Thursday, 31 August 2017

The Beatitudes (re-written)

I have been thinking a little about The Beatitudes, the sayings which Jesus uses to start his most inspirational, and controversial, sermon. They are more bonkers and more beautiful than I ever imagined. I don't think I really understand them at all. This is my attempt at an interpretation (not a translation!)

The Beatitudes

Rejoice
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

Rejoice 
because this kingdom is custom made for you.

Rejoice
if you are sad today without knowing why.
If you are mourning, bereaved, or grieving 
the loss of friend, or lover or another unborn child.
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 stand and weep alongside those who weep
offering ears to listen not lips to talk
a cup of hot tea and biscuits not glib attempts at the answers  

Rejoice 
because the king will wipe away your tears.

Rejoice
if you are at the bottom of the pile.
If you are oppressed and downtrodden, unliked and unnoticed,
if no one notices when you cry out in pain  
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

Rejoice
because, one day, the whole world will be yours.

Rejoice
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

Rejoice
because one day you will be satisfied.

Rejoice
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

Rejoice
because the King will show mercy to you.

Rejoice
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
or others
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

Rejoice
for you will meet the King face to face.

Rejoice
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)

Rejoice 
for you are a child of the King.

Rejoice
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

Rejoice 
because you belong in this kingdom
you belong to this king.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

The Bee

A few weeks ago, Sarah, my toddler, discovered a dying bee in our garden. The bee's wings had been damaged by the stormy rain of the previous night and so it had resigned itself to crawling across our patio. Sarah was fascinated. We sat together and watched the bee a while. I explained to her what it was and she - delighted with her recent ability to speak and thus to put names to things - happily repeated bee bee bee bee beeeeeee to herself over and over again.

I got bored before she did. 


Close-up of Bee on Purple FlowerThere were things to be done in the house so I headed back inside and insisted that she do the same. As our garden is almost entirely made of concrete, and steps, I don't tend to let Sarah play outside by herself, but I had forgotten to shut the back door and so - unbeknownst to me - she tottered back onto the patio. I returned to the dishes. A few minutes later, I heard bee bee bee bee beeeeeeee being joyfully squealed at the top of her little voice. I hurtled out towards the garden thinking only that Sarah's new bee obsession with going to end in anaphylactic shock. But she was sat perfectly still with the bee cupped in her hand. In fact, she was stroking its tiny, furry little back with her finger. I panicked, launched myself at her, and forced the poor, geriatric bee back onto the patio. Sarah looked up at in mild surprise and confusion and continued to say only bee bee bee bee beeeeeee.  

We sat together a little while longer then, and I tried to see what Sarah saw: not the network of anxious possibilities that adults tend to associate with almost everything, but a thing of wonder, a thing of beauty. This bee was quite the most wonderful thing she had ever encountered. With his battered wings as thin and fragile as perforated clingfilm, zigzagged with black stitches like the veins of a leaf; his strange, shiny, bulbous black eyes, knobbly knee caps and fluffy stripes - this bee was beautiful. This bee had made her day, and in doing so, he was making mine, simply by being himself. 

In The Divine Dance, Richard Rohr writes, "All things give glory to God just by being what they are." His words remind me of Irenaeus's much quoted phrase, "The glory of God is man fully alive." I am not quite sure what either of these men mean, but I think it is something to do with Sarah's bee. The bee - by being a bee - is a testament to the goodness and creative ingenuity of the Creator God. The bee is glorifying God by being itself, by doing the things a bee does. But, there is more. In the wide-eyed glee of being 18 months old, Sarah participates in that glory in a way that I have forgotten how to do. She is more fully alive than I. And not simply because she is younger, but because she has not learned yet how to shut her eyes to wonder. She has not learned yet how to ignore the astounding beauty of the world we live in - and all that lives within it - because other things seem more pressing and important.

In writing about how we reclaim the gift of wonder, Brennan Manning writes, "The spirituality of wonder knows the world is charged with grace, that while sin and war, disease and death are terribly real, God's loving presence and power in our midst are even more real." I do know this. I know it in a theoretical way, but I am forgetful. I forget to see the charge of grace as is electrifies the flat white coffee to my left, and the intricate artistry of the man's tattoos who stands to my right; as it pulses through the smiles of the young couple opposite me, and laces its way through each creative detail of this place that makes it my favourite coffee shop in Liverpool.

Annie Dillard, again speaking from outside the Christian bubble, articulates this more clearly than I can: "We are here to witness creation and to abet it. We are here to notice each thing so that each thing gets noticed. Together we notice not only each mountain shadow and each stone on the beach but, especially, we notice the beautiful faces and complex natures of each other...otherwise creation would be playing to an empty house." 

The house is not empty, but the residents are asleep. We walk through our days in dreary slumber with eyes half shut. We forget to stop and take notice. 

Wake up, sleeper, (Ephesians 5:14, Isaiah 60:1) and remember:

Earth's crammed with heaven, 
And every common bush afire with God, 
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round and pluck blackberries
And daub their natural faces unaware.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning, "Aurora Leigh"

Monday, 17 July 2017

Wild God

I recently discovered Annie Dillard. She is an astonishing writer: beautiful, raw, powerful; sentences and images that lurk in your head for days. As far as I'm aware, she doesn't believe in Jesus, but she does write some pretty astute commentary on the Christian faith. In one of her non-fiction pieces she concludes that the church doesn't seem to have the "foggiest idea" about the One that they claim to worship. I think this is -sadly - probably true. And I say that as much to critique myself as anyone else. She writes: "It is madness to wear ladies' straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping God may wake some day and take offense or the waking God may draw us out to whence we can never return." (The Abundance, p.257)

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.* 


But, in doing so, I fear we have made him rather boring.

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: 


"Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:5-7) 

The responsibility of those following God then becomes to correctly represent his character to the communities of which they are part; to show the world what God is like. Thus, the sermon suggested, the importance of the fourth commandment: "Do not misuse the name of the LORD your God," or "Do not take the LORD's name in vain." Not simply avoid cussing or using God's name as a swear word, but don't take God's name upon yourself, don't be known as his follower, if you're going to do a rubbish job of representing who He is. This was Israel's major failing in the Old Testament, and the reason God gives for their exile from the land: instead of showing the surrounding nations how good the name of God was, the people profaned the name of God; they misrepresented him. (Ezekiel 36:20-21) Perhaps this is what Dillard means when she suggests that God will take "offense." God is offended that the behaviour of those who believe in him causes others to believe things about him that aren't true. 

Correctly representing God remains the call of Jesus' followers today, and I worry that we're not doing a very good job. I certainly don't always do a very good job. If to follow God, and represent him, is to display the hallmarks of his name and identity, then I need to ask myself if I am like him, if others around me would see in me what He is like: one who is compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, boundlessly forgiving yet passionately concerned for justice. One who takes risks, who is brave, and honest, who thirsts for adventure, who longs to change the world and is dissatisfied by the status quo. Sometimes. Yes. Perhaps. I certainly pray that this is what people see in me. But sometimes, definitely not. I am not slow to anger. My love is limited - often after just an hour spent with a toddler in the morning. I hold grudges rather than freely forgiving. I resist taking a risk for the sake of someone else if it's too costly for me.

But Jesus trusts in his followers to represent him. He left us the task of showing the world what He is like. And he left his own Spirit within us to transform us into a clearer image of himself (2 Corinthians 3:18) 

And He is wild. Not boring.


* I find it almost impossible to think of the wildness of God without picturing C.S. Lewis' Aslan and remembering that he not a tame lion: "Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion." "Ooh" said Susan. "I'd thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion"..."Safe?" said Mr Beaver ..."Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you.” (The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe)

Monday, 6 February 2017

Contentment

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

Becoming Bread

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.