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.

Failure. A sign of progress.

Whoever conceals his sins does not prosper but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy. Proverbs 28 v 13

It’s the school holidays. The second of two weeks, unplanned (first mistake) and organic. After our sixth move in six months I lacked the energy to ring round and sort out activities for the small people, and have just had to live with their disinclination to anything more than drag themselves and their bedding in front of the TV in lounge no. 6 and settle in for extended sessions of what passes for kids cartoons nowadays.

Today is the day I go to a prayer meeting which has been going for about two months. This new, small gathering is developing its own God rhythm. There’s no programme as such, just a long session of uninhibited unselfconscious worship followed by, well, whatever follows. Sometimes that’s watching a teaching podcast, sometimes it’s praying for each other. Always it’s  inviting God to lead events, and not worry about how it should be.

I have been in such meetings before. But not for years. And I am drawn to it each week like a dry sponge to water. I am learning so much, drawing deep from this well, drawing closer. I feel myself waking up as if from a deep sleep, noticing my surroundings more, the expressions on the faces I pass in the street,. The wallpaper, if you like. And in these meetings God is speaking to me, to all of us. Confirming through others what He’s been saying all week. His whispers and hints are getting louder. I am hearing him more clearly. I am enjoying His love, and my life, more.

But it wasn’t until today that I realised how far I had come.

I left the meeting later than planned to get the kids to the movies. Instead of being ready to go when I finally arrived back home, they were all spread out on the floor in front of the TV. To their credit, they got moving pretty fast. Traffic wasn’t too bad, but the hunt for the parking space was. When we finally found one, one of them started yelling about how unimpressed he was with the whole deal and I LOST IT.

WHY CAN’T YOU JUST STOP YELLING FOR ONE MINUTE! I yelled. I’M SICK OF IT, YOU HEAR ME? or words to that effect.

Fail.

I looked up and saw another mother across the carpark who had stopped mid-way through gettting her own kids in or out of her car. I couldn’t read her expression but she was locking her eyes onto mine. I just kept walking.

All this took almost twenty minutes.  This meant the kids had missed all the trailers and were now missing actual movie. When we got to the ticket desk, it was manned by one man who was providing excellent, detailed advice to each of the four customers ahead of us. Add another ten minutes.

I used that time to apologise to each child about five times. I decided not to listen to my inner running commentary until they were safely stowed in the cinema.

Once back in my car (after the ticket machine ate my change), I told God I was sorry. And then I turned up the volume on the internal commentary. Call Yourself A Christian When You Can’t Even Keep Your Temper? It said, predictably.

Unpredictably, I felt myself reply. Yes. Yes I Do. Because I Am A Child Of God. Jesus Christ has paid the price for all my sin, and If I Confess My Sin, God Is Faithful and Just to Forgive My Sin And Cleanse Me From All Unrighteousness. So Back Off.

And I got on with the rest of my day. That, for me, is progress.

 

 

 

 

Crumbs

I have been thinking about names recently. Mine means brave and strong. The last things I feel myself to be. But I don’t think I got my name by accident and so, in the spirit of faith, I claim those qualities, even if I can’t yet see them. In any case, Jesus is both brave and strong. And he lives here, at this dubious address, in this over-sugared, under-exercised body, if the Book is to be believed. And if my experience of company in solitude, presence in silence and audience to my thoughts holds any weight.

It is too late now to retreat into familiar hiding places. In Finding Nemo, the daddy fish Marlin is in the habit of making a number of exits and returns to his anemone each morning, before plunging out into the world. I’m out past my comfort zone now but I don’t know the way back. It’s barred to me. I can’t go back to the home I remember because it’s not there.

Sometimes I look to where we used to be and imagine us all there again. But that is impossible. Like the river flowing past, the water is constantly changing. In the old neighbourhood, buildings are pulled down and new ones are built, the single marry or move away, children grow and leave. It all changes. So this desire for home is for a snapshot in time, or a series of them I have plated into a pretty meal to feast on at moments like this.

Thankfully God tells us in his word not to replay former things and look to the future. He calls us forward, out of our inclination to circle back to what was. New memories to make, new adventures to be had. Thankfully Jesus is here with me, quietly encouraging me, lending weight to the flimsy words I dare to speak on his behalf.

A woman asks me how she can keep going to church and Bible study when she, despite being a Christian, knows she still sins. Surely God’s holiness and purity make it impossible for her to access the great love she keeps hearing about. Surely, she thinks, she’s still too wrong to qualify for it.

I take a deep breath before answering.

When I realised I have talked continuously for about four minutes I stop and check that the line hasn’t gone dead. You still there? I’m sorry I just got carried away, I say.

No, no, it’s wonderful. Just wonderful. I can hardly believe that he loves me like that, she says. Go on.

So I do. And again, after I have talked for a good while without pause, I check in with her. I can hear the relief in her voice.

And I am blessed. Why? Because earlier this morning I asked God for an opportunity to explain the hope I have in me. Because I have avoided this for so long I don’t know how to do it.

But after talking to this woman I realise I just have to express what I understand. No more, no less. No big theological concepts, just what I understand. In Bee Movie (just humour me, I have little kids), Barry gives his friend Adam a piece of cake crumb from his new human friend. That’s what they eat? Adam asks, blown away by the taste. No, Barry says, that’s what falls off what they eat.

My point? What we believers have in the word of God is so amazing, so excellent and powerful that even the tiny crumb we offer in our slightly chaotic way is powerful and satisfying.

So let’s use what we’ve got and see what God does. The harvest is great but the workers are few.

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Foghorn

It would have been early, 5 am or thereabouts, when our sleep was interrupted by a long, loud blast on a ship’s horn. My other half was not impressed, saying it was a bit antisocial. It blasted again a few times more and then stopped. Later when we got up we couldn’t see the water or the bank opposite. It looked as though a cloud had parked in front of us. The blast was probably a cruise liner or cargo ship moving out along a stretch of river also used by small boats and rowers. So the foghorn may have woken the folks along the shore, but those on the water needed it.

One of the more ridiculous lies I have wrapped my scaredy-cat self in over the years goes like this: offence is worse than warning. So the best thing to do is to say nothing and hope that by being a really super-nice person others might be intrigued enough to give me opportunities to share the hope I have in Jesus. If I was really serious about that I should have got myself one of those badges pyramid sellers used to wear. ‘I’m a Christian. Ask me how.’

But I didn’t. Because for one thing, I was not nice enough consistently enough to arouse much curiosity. Truth. For another, I didn’t really have much to tell people in response to any question they might ask me. Thinking about talking to anyone about my faith made my palms sweaty. Still does at times. But I saw a cartoon that gave me pause. It showed the devil leading a man off to hell and an angel leading another off to heaven. The condemned man is looking at the other with disbelief. The caption reads: Bob! You never told me you were a Christian!

If you’re in the dark and you’re in danger you need someone to warn you. If you choose not to believe them that’s your choice. If I see the danger but am too shy/scared to tell you, that makes me not at all nice. That makes me something else entirely. As Penn Jillette, not shy about his atheism, puts it so well here.

New day. Yay!

Lamentations 3: 22 – 23

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness.

It’s about 5 am. I’m sitting at the kitchen table wrapped in three blankets, the third one over my head. Yes, it’s cold in here. No heating in a house on stilts halfway up a hill. My children, husband and dog are all asleep. Just me and the fridge buzzing away in this chilly room, keeping each other company. Well, me the fridge and God. And the distractions from things popping up on my screen every few seconds to remind me that I’m connected to the world outside.

Ahead of me today the normal weekday routine, marshalling the kids from sleep to school with the right lunches/uniform/money/permission slips, organising dinner, and helping in the school canteen. Sigh. Would have loved a day to get myself together, but I’ve committed. I haven’t been using my time very efficiently for a good few weeks now. It’s taken me a while to identify the problem, and it’s really very simple. I have no plan. And it’s time to get one.

From the kitchen window I can see the lights on the other side of the river and a thin sliver of the underside of the moon. It still feels like night. It still feels like night inside me too. I can’t yet see the way through this, but I now know that there is one. Can’t live by feelings. Too unreliable. I need to live by what I know.

I know what I want to do – mostly. Blog, write and possibly podcast towards the end of the year. There is no set path, which is fine, as I’m not too good at sticking to those anyway, but what plans I had at the end of last year were derailed and since then, with each house move, my vision has blurred a little more. The simple everyday stuff that was so hard immediately after the fire, and took a lot of energy, has been quickly settling into routine for months now, but my mind has not kept pace. I have noticed that I have been going the long way around everything, taking longer, making less sense to myself and others. I’ll be honest, it’s been getting me down.

I also know that this is a new day. This is the day that the Lord has made and I will rejoice and be glad in it. Whatever yesterday was like, today is full of possibility. Including the possibility of snatching another hour’s sleep before sunrise.

Goodnight.

Nearly morning

Romans 13: 10 – 14

Love does no harm to its neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfilment of the law. And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because your salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

Sleep. What a wonderful, beautiful thing we get to do every night. While our bodies recharge, it takes us to warm happy oblivion, or a field of flowers, or a flight over our favourite city, or whatever you dream about, until the alarm punctures its membrane and pulls us awake. It can take a while for us to get our bearings, and reluctantly give up the dream we were just in.

Who wants to get up? Who would? Especially at this time of year, if like me you live in the southern hemisphere. The icy dark winter mornings are not exactly inviting. And the dream can be so lush, and the bed so warm, that getting up is the last thing you want to do. It’s cosy and comforting here. It’s cold outside. We’ll have to do stuff once we get up. Let’s just stay here as long as we can.

The funny thing about staying in bed longer than you need to, in my experience, is that it seems to get less comfortable as time passes. I find myself wriggling round to find a good spot. When I try to lie-in, I rarely get back to sleep unless I’m ill.

For a while I’ve been in a state not unlike sleep. I know this because I am starting to wake up. In the same way that we don’t realise we’re dreaming until morning comes and we have to face the fact that we don’t actually have the power of flight. Only I’m having the reverse experience.

Let me explain.

Years ago I was much less reserved in my Christian expression. I didn’t preach on street corners or anything like that, but I probably came across as a bit, er, eccentric. References to God seasoned a lot of my conversations. I hung out with other slightly eccentric believers. I spent a lot of time praying and reading Scripture. Cool things happened. People got emotional and sometimes physical healing. We listened carefully for God and He let us see him work in spectacular ways.

We moved house. And then we moved again. And I fell asleep. Not immediately, not completely. But something took my focus off Jesus and put it onto making things comfortable for the people around me. I allowed the structures and traditions of the worship and churches we became part of to shape my expression and my expectation. Both became restrained and restricted. And swaddled by the comforting structures of codified worship, I drifted off to sleep.

Since the fire, and perhaps for some time before then, God has been sounding the alarm in his gently insistent way. He’s showing me what to repair and what to throw out. Priorities to re-set. Idols to destroy, like pain, fear and pride. I want to protect myself from being hurt. I have anxieties about what people can accept, about getting things wrong. I don’t want to look foolish. But I know that in God my life finds full expression, and that in God its fullest expression is more than I have allowed myself to experience. In the last few weeks, I have been seeking out opportunities to rebuild the lost connection and I have found him waiting to receive me and satisfy my thirst.

So I’m awake and I’m getting up.

You?

Always there

The fire destroyed little of our house, but it caused a huge rupture in the life of our family since we had to move out last December. Once the family were safely out of the house that day, the whole thing could have burned to the ground as far as I was concerned.

So much of our existence is spent papering over the flimsyness of our lives. As if our buildings and our soft furnishings and our decorations and stuff really matter. As if it isn’t all  just going to end up on someone’s bonfire someday. It’s hardly worth chasing, but a lot of energy goes into getting it or envying those who have it.

Five months on, the builders have started repairs ( the wheels turn slowly in this part of the world) and the end of the road is in sight.

I’m thankful.  Genuinely thankful.

That probably sounds pious. I don’t really care. It’s the truth. I’m grateful that I know who God is. That I know I am loved and cared for and provided for and that this is not all there is. I am thankful that I have family and friends through whom God has shown me what love looks like in practical and impractical ways.

I’m grateful for God’s word which tells me I can talk to God and through which, when I slow down and get quiet enough to listen, He actually talks to me. To me!

I’m delighted that I can share my victories, the days I get it all together, and my failures, when I fail altogether, with someone who knows me intimately and loves me the same always.

I am staggered that the same God who I read about in my Bible is  present in this little life of mine, my Source and my companion.

No matter what’s going on.