Losing my religion

It’s finally happened. After months of mental paralysis I have faced the fact that much of my adult life has rested on a vain, empty fantasy. I am not, actually, in charge.

I am a different person to the one who stood watching flames lick the side of the house just over seven months ago. That person trusted God, but only as far as was sensible. That person was quietly desperate for a deeper connection with God but also scared of what that might mean. That person was also very concerned with what others thought. My Christian faith was very much focused on me. How I was performing. Or not. What I was getting wrong and what right. What boxes I could tick and feel like I was okay. I was obsessed with my image, constantly adjusting things to present my best side, so to speak. Hey, look at me worshipping. Does my faith look big in this?

In this year of house-hopping, God has helped me manage my end of things, keep my sense of humour and a reasonable equilibrium. No small thing. But as well as allowing me and the family to be pushed out of the house he’s also pushed me into more overtly spiritual territory. I have had to lean in, take refuge, really truly rely on this God I have claimed to trust since I was 16 years old.

I suppose the subconscious, or as I like to call her, my spirit, knows stuff before my mind catches up. She floats stuff to the surface that in my arrogance I think is the product of my imagination. Like the title of this blog. Relocation2011. I named it for the year we left England for Tasmania, an apt title for someone who even before that momentous move has uprooted a good few times.

We lived in three houses before we found a house to buy. And then came the fire. It wouldn’t take a genius to figure out that God was perhaps trying to tell us something, not by setting our house on fire (all credit to the six-year old for that) but by keeping us on the move, not letting us settle anywhere for long, showing us how much physical if not emotional baggage we accumulate whenever we stay still for too long. (The end of that particular road is almost, almost in sight. Last week I got to pick out paint colours. Yay!)

In reflecting on what the message might be, other than have a garage sale every six months, I have been drawn back to an invitation I received a couple of years before we left England. This was a call to full-time ministry. Like any reasonable person I ran like the wind of course, with many plausible objections, okay, excuses. Not unlike Jonah, the reluctant prophet. Jonah got a call to go to Nineveh and ran in the opposite direction. I didn’t run down here to the end of the world but when the door opened for us to come to Tasmania it seemed like a good opportunity to do my own version of a good but disobedient thing. I ignored what God was saying and decided that I would distract Him by focusing on being the good Christian wife and mother with a bit of extra stuff in Church at the weekends.

In the last few months I have had little reminders of this invitation to serve God full-time. To commit everything to God. And instead of finding it terrifying, I find I am now ready to say yes. I don’t know what this will look like yet. And annoyingly, the only one around me that is surprised about this is me.

Jesus says that he stands at the door and knocks and to all who open the door he will come in and eat with them. I know he’s here in my life. I have only recently realised that I have not allowed myself to be at home with him, just hovering like an anxious host, tidying up around him and leaving the room from time to time. In his last recorded prayer in John 17 he talks about this strange intimacy between himself and God. I in You and You in me, He says. I have accepted Him in me, but not myself in Him. I have preferred to hold myself aloof from Him, to confect my own life which is neither in the world nor in Him but straddled somewhere across the two. I did it my way, as ole blue eyes used to say, and found my way uncomfortable, awkward and exhausting.

So I’m relocating.

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Yikes! I just preached!

Yes way. This last Sunday. I stood up and preached from Romans 12 1 – 2. And the sky did not fall in. Nobody got up and left. Or threw anything, or shouted heretic.

They were all quite nice about it actually.

And despite the sleepless nights and the 8 or 9 versions that I wrote before it was delivered, I really REALLY enjoyed it. Even writing that down seems like a big deal. I have learned to censor myself too much. I sound like a Jane Austen character. One of the demure, boring sisters. Maybe because sometimes that’s what I still think I’m meant to be. It’s hard to shake the idea that that’s what Godly looks like. Like a Victorian child, seen and not heard.

I said in a previous post this was my year of saying Yes. And no. No doubt I’ve got it mixed up a bit along the way but it was with a sense of daring bordering on recklessness that I said yes when asked if I would preach while one of our ministers was on paternity leave. It was like an out-of-body experience. I watched myself say yes quickly without agonising and then, having said yes, I watched myself not agonise about having said yes to such a stand-up-the-front-and-make-everyone-listen-to-you-for-twenty-minutes thing. I just went on with my life until it was time to prepare. Who was this strange relaxed woman who had invaded my body?

I figured she’d taken the night before the service off because I was very much back in charge then. I spent a while letting all kinds of weird scenarios process through my head like some kind of carnival parade. My insecurities were jumping up in my face like our overexcited dog. Then this question cut through the noise: how did you get here and how do you really feel? Deep down, out of sight of the pointing fingers and turned backs in your imagination. That was God. I have no doubt. As I pondered the question, I realised that deep down, I felt neither stress nor anxiety, but excitement. I was buzzing, but feeling somehow wrong about it. A blog I’ve found recently by Jory Micah may have helped me knock the last few nails in the coffin of why girls can’t preach, but it was still hard to shake the feeling that I was having altogether too much fun even thinking about doing it.

When I was a child our vicar, a lovely man called Graham Hayles, would describe how God would give him bits and pieces to add to his sermon as the week went on, in events and unexpected conversations with people as he went about his pastoral work, or shopping or gardening or whatever. He would talk about insights that came as he observed things around him. I remember that I loved hearing about that, thinking how cool it must be. Just to think about and observe the world and see what God is saying today to reinforce and explain the ancient texts of scripture for us today. Strange thing for a young girl to enjoy, but there you are.

Now fast forward exty-ex years to last Saturday. Here I was about to do just that. To preach God’s word, illustrated by my own insights, coincidences and random events, which had been accumulating for weeks like the dustbunnies under my bed. My fears and anxieties melted away as I realised that God had orchestrated this whole event. I did not ask to speak but was asked. I only had to do my part and leave the rest up to him. It went well. I felt calm. Very, very calm. They even laughed at my jokes.

It was only after I sat down that I began to shake.