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.

Worship. The secret sauce.

Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say Rejoice.

Philippians 4 v 4

Sometimes you just have to keep it simple. Get back to the basics. Who He Is. Who we are.

He is God. And we aren’t.

Like the woman who gave me a lesson in prayer one clear beautiful morning in Wells Park, Sydenham, there are times when we have to lift our heads out of our first-world problems and praise God for what we take for granted.

Sight. Feeling. Smell. Taste. Hearing. Family. Friendships. A roof over our heads. Clothes to wear. Food in the fridge. Choice after choice that is simply inconceivable to the millions living in poverty far away and on our doorsteps. Muesli or toast? Eggs or yoghurt? These shoes or those ones? Choice after choice that could have landed us in trouble, in hospital, in the ground – but didn’t. Endless mercies we won’t understand or appreciate this side of eternity.

It is hard to do sometimes because our stuff is in our faces. It’s hard to see past. But when I change my line of sight, lifting my head to worship, that tidal wave of overwhelm seems to disappear.

God is still God despite my issues, my problems, my perceived or real challenges. And he is always worthy of my praise, my admiration, my trust and my attention. This transcendent God, who could snuff my life out in a second, chooses to favour me with his love, to join his life to mine, to manifest in my life, at my side, in my heart, utterly committed in his love. It can sometimes take me a while to remember the power of worship to re-align my perspectives and my perceptions. I have phases when I forget completely to say thanks and I love you. When I choose to lie face-down in the sludge of my ‘problems’ instead of lying prostrate before Him. But when I remember to worship, well…that’s the secret sauce.

In the strange paradox of worship, I come away stronger, standing taller, surer than ever that the best is ahead and not behind me.

Hallelujah. Bless His Holy Name.

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.

 

 

 

 

No prizes for busy

No, really. There are no prizes for being busy. No matter how many jobs you pack into your day, how many errands you run, tasks you complete, people you help, or laundry you get done. Sorry to burst your bubble, but there it is. We don’t get kudos for all this. We just get to do it all again tomorrow.

That said, there are blessings in it all, for all the times we moan and feel sorry for ourselves. For those of us who have families, people to care for who in turn care for us (though this may not always be obvious), there are many, many for whom this is not only not true, but seems impossible. A dream, even.

But I’m not just thinking about thankfulness, powerful as that is. I’m thinking about slowing down. Changing pace. Being in the moment. Being aware of the gift of now. Dare I say it? Relaxing. Enjoying what God has given you.

This doesn’t come easily. It has taken time and a shock to show me I had taken on more than I could reasonably achieve. I could hardly admit that to myself, because it felt wrong somehow to withdraw.

In the end, the pressure became too much. I went POP! And ended up in the emergency room.

Since then, God has kindly been reminding me of the following invitation from Jesus.

Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Matthew 11 vs 28 – 30

In humility I admit I am not superwoman, and Jesus does not ask that of me. So I’ve been handing back some responsibilities, and letting myself take a breath now and then.

Would-be Superheroes, there are no prizes for busy. So take some stuff off your to-do list.

When two is better than four

The youngest one and I went to the park so he could start learning to ride his bike without training wheels. I thought this would take a week, perhaps, judging from previous experience with his sisters. But after holding on behind while he rode across the field three times I decided to let go. Off he went, perfectly balanced. When his sisters rode past a few minutes later I called them over to watch. He rode round and round the field, whooping. I was so pumped that when of the girls started turning cartwheels, I decided to do one too.

Oops.

I had clearly forgotten how heavy and stiff I was on the outside because on the inside I was light and springy with excitement. So I did a cartwheel, or my impression of one, and when I landed I felt as if my left leg had been pulled out of its socket. There’s probably some proper medical term for it, though I’m sure FOOLISHNESS would cover it adequately. At least I provided a comedy moment for a couple walking on the pavement opposite the park, who had to turn their faces away, no doubt to hide their laughter. I hobbled home slowly while my children rode on ahead.

That was about 3 weeks ago. My left leg has almost returned to normal function, though the pain has been anything but funny. But my son’s joy was worth it all. He’s been beaming ever since. Looking for every opportunity to ride. Which led to the next challenge. You see, I had become nervous about cycling, basically because apart from a short spell at University, I had done very little of it. It was on my list of new year hopes to get back on my bike, and now the boy had learnt, I would have to do it. No more hiding behind the baby because the baby has grown into a confident, bike-riding boy. So without letting myself think too hard about it, I took myself into the local bike shop and made enquiries.

This week I went for a ride with a lovely woman who works at the shop and takes beginners and nervous riders out twice a week. She turned out to be Myra Moller, an elite cyclist from New Zealand. If I had known that beforehand I might not have gone, too intimidated by her pedigree. But she was patient and fun. And when I got back, I was beaming as much as my son had been 3 weeks ago. He and I are both learning about the sheer rush of overcoming a challenge. Now I’m more confident about cycling myself, I’m looking forward to taking him and myself out riding more.

Thank you Lord for what our children teach us.

No more cartwheels though.

`When the road gets rough and steep…’

Fix your eyes upon Jesus, as the song says. Harder than it sounds. Instead, when the road gets rough, I tend to complain, sit down for a rest and look for sympathy. This is easier because surely Jesus, if I as much as glance in his direction, will just tell me to fix up and stop being a baby. I know I would if I were Him. Sometimes the road isn’t steep. Maybe I’ve just got a minor irritation to deal with, like a stone in my shoe. All the same, it’s still sound advice.

Recently a casual remark got into my shoe, as it were, and hobbled me for a while. It seemed to trigger other memories of real or imagined wrongs, so that by the end of the day I felt like a walking thundercloud just waiting for something, anything, to set off the storm. Not surprisingly I got a splitting headache to go with it. Good times all round.

The next morning I realised it was time to take the stone out of my shoe, to not let those words wound me any more. I knew that the person who said them was probably blissfully unaware, let alone agonising about them or wishing they’d kept their mouth shut. They were simply getting on with their lives. In order to do the same I needed to take action. So I decided to evict those words and all the self-pitying poison they generated from my mind, and to fix my eyes upon Jesus, like the song says. I asked forgiveness for the many stupid, thoughtless words I have said, particularly to this friend. I thanked him for all the amazing gifts and blessings of this friendship. It was easy after for this tiny, tiny incident to take its proper place, crushed somewhere on the floor underneath my shoe.

My headache, which had been nuzzling at me since I woke up, retreated to a dull thud. Over the next hour or so it went completely. I was feeling a bit silly for taking so long to get over it but then realised that actually this was a major victory. No disrespect to my family but we can sulk for decades over words spoken out of turn, so for me to 180 this thing in 24 hours was nothing short of miraculous. The road was neither rough nor steep. I just had to take the stone out of my shoe.

Thank you Jesus.

Compare and Contrast

With both hands tied behind my back. With all my fears, worries and hang-ups calling out from the sidelines. With all the mistakes, embarrassments and regrets of the past shifting the ground beneath my feet. I carry on.

Last week one of my daughters was awarded a distinction in an exam. She was delighted, of course. But when she got back to the class and got her certificate she found her mark was the lowest in a high-scoring set. They all had distinctions. And suddenly she felt less. She was no longer a success because of what the others had achieved. I instantly reached for some Mum Platitudes to make her feel better. Never Mind, These Things Happen, You Did Your Best And That’s What Counts, What A Great Teacher You All Have… you know, all that stuff. But I had to force the words out. Because I knew exactly how she felt. Seeing her score next to other, better ones tripped her up. She felt undermined and inadequate. Her success was now as good as a failure. And as I thought about the flip side of that I realised that in this mindset the only thing that would make her feel better would be beating the others. Which would provoke in them the same ‘not really good enough unless I’m better than-’ sadness she now felt.

Unhealthy as this is, I have to admit that I am no different. My achievements can seem paltry compared to those I measure myself against, consciously or not. Even though I know it’s nonsense. We’re all starting, and starting again, from different places, with different talents and gifts. Like the story Jesus tells about the man who gave different gifts in differing amounts to three men, and told them get on with it. The two with the most, 5 and 10 talents respectively, invested and reaped rewards. The last, given the least, moaned and criticised the man who gave it to him, burying it in the ground instead of doing something with it. He let self-pity and bitterness stop him doing anything useful with what he’d been given.

My attempts to comfort my daughter with borrowed wisdom – since I still haven’t cracked this one myself – sounded hollow and I soon shut up, much to the relief of both of us. She’s approaching eye-rolling teenage stage, so she probably wasn’t listening much anyway. In a world which invites us to compare ourselves with the thin, the clever, the rich and the successful in order to sell us stuff, we would need to be made of stone not to be tempted to measure our lives against the glossy ones we read or hear about. If I’m not careful I can forget that like the man in the story, I’m not going to be judged on someone else’s gifts, but on my own.